Rugby - All Blacks would have played England, preferred Barbarians

By Greg Stutchbury
Britain Rugby Union - Barbarians v South Africa - The Killik Cup - Wembley Stadium - 5/11/16 The Barbarians team pose for a photograph before the match Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The All Blacks would have played England in November had the Rugby Football Union arranged the test but the existing fixture against the Barbarians was always their preference, New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said on Thursday.

The match against the Barbarians on Nov. 4 was confirmed on Wednesday, ending the hopes of some in England that the Six Nations champions could pit their wits against the world champions before their next scheduled meeting in late 2018.

England equalled the New Zealand's 18-match winning streak on their way to claiming the Six Nations title this month but failed to better the top tier record after losing to Ireland last Saturday.

Tew confirmed that discussions had been held over what would have been a highly lucrative Twickenham clash between the top two teams in the world but that coach Steve Hansen had made it clear that the Barbarians was always his first choice.

"Steve ... and the group know we've got to play extra games and so we work very co-operatively with them around making sure we get a balance between the maximum revenue we can generate," Tew told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.

"He said if (playing England instead of the Barbarians) was where it lands, and that's the option that's best for everybody, then we'll do that, but it will be a challenge."

The All Blacks typically have just three official test matches on their end-of-season tours to the northern hemisphere but have occasionally scheduled a fourth game outside the international window to generate additional revenue.

In the past they have played Japan in Tokyo and both the United States and Ireland in Chicago en route to Europe.

Tew conceded that a matchup with England would have produced a larger windfall than the invitational Barbarians but that NZR had to balance the desire for revenue with concerns over player workload.

"If we had have played England then the returns would have been greater," Tew said. "It would have been a good opportunity to find out what that number might look like.

"But our preference, given the All Blacks have got three very competitive Lions tests in front of them and then home and away against Australia, South Africa and Argentina ... and then we've still got to play France, Scotland and Wales.

"Another big game was not our preference."

Tew said the end of year tours were hugely physically and mentally draining on the players, coming as they do after the lengthy journeys necessary to compete in the Rugby Championship.

"We're incredibly mindful of how hard the end of year tour is on our players," Tew said.

"The term Steve used ...is that we crawled across the line in Europe last year, another game at the end of this year would not be sensible."

England are scheduled to play Argentina, Australia and Samoa in November, while the All Blacks face Scotland, Wales and France.

(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Ken Ferris/Nick Mulvenney)

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