CHICAGO, Ill. – The reigning IRB Rugby World Cup Champion New Zealand All Blacks will play their first match in the United States since 1980 Saturday, Nov. 1, at Soldier Field in Chicago against the Men’s Eagles, USA Rugby and New Zealand Rugby announced at a press conference Tuesday.
Following the sold-out match between the Eagles, the United States’ National Senior Men’s rugby union team, and the New Zealand Maori All Blacks at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Pa., last November, USA Rugby and New Zealand Rugby Official Sponsor American International Group, Inc. (NYSE: AIG) will again unite the two nations as title sponsor of the game.
NBC will provide national broadcast coverage for the 2:30 P.M. CT kickoff.
“We have taken big steps to increase the profile of rugby in the United States with our international games drawing record crowds, but nothing on the scale of a match against the New Zealand All Blacks,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville said. “The Maori All Blacks offered a taste of the rugby tradition one can expect from New Zealand and we have no doubt the All Blacks will raise the level of play for the Eagles as they prepare for the World Cup and create a special event for rugby supporters around the world.”
The Eagles, the most recent qualifier for next year’s World Cup in England, will face the No. 1-ranked team in the world ahead of the All Blacks’ Air New Zealand European Tour in the following weeks.
“We are very excited to be taking the All Blacks to a part of the world we know is incredibly keen on all sports and where we believe there is a real thirst to see the style of rugby we are famous for,” New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said.
The All Blacks have only played the United States three times since their inception, the first in Berkeley, Calif., in 1913. An exhibition match in San Diego, Calif., in 1980 drew a record crowd for a rugby match in North America. The most recent meeting between the two sides occurred at IRB Rugby World Cup 1991 England, where the All Blacks finished third.
“It goes without saying, but playing the New Zealand All Blacks is a rugby player’s dream,” Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin said. “It’s no different as a coach. Although this test match is a massive challenge, we want to play against the world’s best. This will also be the perfect opportunity to showcase American rugby, as well as growing the game in the United States with one of the biggest names in the sport.”
“The All Blacks have only played the USA three times and all of those games have been spread out over a long time, so having the chance to play in the States itself and particularly in Chicago, a city with so much sporting history, as well, is really exciting,” All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said. “Tactically, obviously when you have a different opposition – in any sport – you have got to appreciate what they do and what they bring and make sure you have got the tools in the toolbox to combat that.”
The match at Soldier Field will be the seventh time Chicago has hosted the Eagles since 1976. Rockne Stadium has seen the likes of France, Canada, and Japan on its pitch, while the Eagles played Canada and Wales at Toyota Park two years after the stadium opened in 2006.
“We are thrilled to host the New Zealand All Blacks and the USA Rugby Eagles at Soldier Field this fall,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “This international event will be welcomed by our many sports enthusiasts and is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our great city to the rest of the world.”
Soldier Field, opened in 1924, is the home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears and seats more than 63,000 spectators. The Bears have a bye week leading up to the Eagles’ match against the All Blacks and are away from home on either side of the test. Chicago is a sports-mad city with professional sport organizations in each of the five major sports leagues in the United States.
“USA Rugby is continuously looking to host events in new areas of the country and could not be happier with the prospect of playing in one of the most iconic venues in America,” Melville said. “Chicago has been thirsty for international rugby for some time; I’m positive the city and the American rugby community will welcome both teams and fans from not only the United States, but around the world with open arms.”
“We think Chicago and Soldier Field is a great fit for both sides,” Tew said. “I visited Soldier Field recently and this is a stadium with a huge atmosphere, rich history and wonderful facilities and a ground which has never hosted a rugby match, so this will be an unforgettable afternoon of sports action.”
“Hosting this prestigious international rugby match is an honor,” Chicago Sports Commission Interim Executive Director Kara Bachman said. “It’s extremely meaningful for Chicago and a testament to the great vision and work of our CVB under CEO Don Welsh’s leadership that major, internationally-renowned teams like the New Zealand All Blacks want to come here.”
The Eagles’ match against the All Blacks on NBC will be the first international rugby match to be broadcast on national network television since the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011. NBC will also broadcast next year’s World Cup in England.
“We are excited to have the defending World Cup Champion New Zealand All Blacks back on NBC versus Team USA,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC and NBCSN. “The matchup between these two prestigious rugby teams will take place exactly one year to the date of the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final, which will also air on NBC.”
In conjunction with Tuesday’s announcement, USA Rugby and AIG will be introducing the Rookie Rugby program to more than 200 local schools and community organizations in the greater Chicagoland area this year to spread the all-inclusive rugby culture. Rookie Rugby is USA Rugby’s non-contact, flag version of rugby aimed at teaching young athletes the game and the importance of teamwork and respect for opponents, coaches, and referees alike.
“The meeting of these two teams for only the third time in one hundred years on U.S. soil represents a tremendous milestone for the sport of rugby, and is an embodiment of AIG’s ongoing global commitment to the sport,” Joseph Fitzpatrick, President, Midwest Region for AIG Property Casualty, said. “We are proud to stand behind both teams, and are thrilled to partner together to support the advancement of rugby throughout the world and here at home in Chicago.”
The match will be broadcast live from Chicago on NBC Saturday, Nov. 1, with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 P.M. CT. Tickets will be released to the general public June 16. Register for special pre-sale and preferred seating opportunities by June 1 on www.usavallblacks.com.