Hong Kong will host a Bledisloe Cup rugby Test between Australia and New Zealand in November, the Australian and New Zealand Rugby Unions (NZRU) announced yesterday.
The match at Hong Kong Stadium on Nov. 1 will be the first time the two fierce rivals have played each other outside of their own countries except for at the Rugby World Cup, the unions said in a joint statement.
The Bledisloe Cup is one of rugby's most storied trophies, with a history that dates back to 1931, and represents the pinnacle of trans-Tasman sporting supremacy, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said in the statement.
"Together with our partner rugby unions, we are excited to accept Hong Kong's invitation to stage the first rugby international in Asia to feature two of the world's top teams," Tew said.
"The match will make history and help promote rugby in a part of the world where it is developing quickly.
"We know both the All Blacks and the Wallabies have many fans in Asia and it is fantastic to be able to bring the game to them and to local rugby enthusiasts," he said.
With the addition of the Hong Kong match, this year's Bledisloe Cup will be decided over four Tests.
Australia and New Zealand are scheduled to meet three times as part of the Tri-Nations Series and then contest the fourth and final match in Hong Kong.
"Australia and New Zealand are great sporting rivals and the Bledisloe Cup is always fiercely contested," ARU chief executive John O'Neill said in the statement.
"November's match will be no different. It promises to be a full-blooded encounter between two of the sport's heavyweights. This is not an exhibition game," he said.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRFU) said it will use the occasion to promote rugby with youth and club tournaments in the week leading up to the match and potentially a curtain raiser between Hong Kong and China on the day of the match.
"Hong Kong's status as a rugby destination continues to grow," HKRFU executive director Allan Payne said in the statement.
"Teams and fans always enjoy the Sevens, but international 15-a-side rugby is another remarkable and distinct rugby experience.
"With millions watching on television around the world this is rugby at its best and a real showcase for Hong Kong.
"The concept of the match has attracted a lot of interest since it was first mentioned last year," Payne said.
"It is our aim to host events of this calibre on an annual basis. There is certainly a lot of interest in seeing rugby at this level being played in the region," he said.
New Zealand have been the Bledisloe Cup holders since 2003.
Meanwhile, IRB officials have agreed to scrap plans for an annual match between the winners of the Six Nations and Tri-Nations championships.
Officials discussed the idea with rugby chiefs from the sport's leading countries but decided a playoff between the champions of northern and southern hemispheres was not feasible.
Instead, a "world series" between the top teams north and south of the equator would be looked at instead, according to Tew.
"One of the things we discussed was the possibility of the Tri-Nations winner playing the Six Nations champion," he said. "That possibility has now been taken off the table."
Tew said the IRB's discussions were now focused on the proposed inter-hemisphere series, which would be a biennial event played when there is neither a World Cup nor a British and Irish Lions tour.