Recent high-profile Highlanders signings will add spice to a pre-season clash with the Blues in Queenstown this summer.
All Black stars Ma’a Nonu and Tony Woodcock – who’ve both defected from the Auckland-based Blues – and retired All Black great Brad Thorn are all likely to turn out for the Highlanders at the Recreation Ground on February 15.
Nonu’s signing last week caused an angry reaction from new Blues coach Sir John Kirwan.
Highlanders general manager Roger Clark says it’s possible all three All Blacks will debut for the Highlanders in Queenstown because the game’s just a week out from their first Super 15 match.
“It’s going to be interesting for all Highlanders supporters.
“I think you’ll get a few people from around the place keen to have a bit of a nosey.”
Lakes Leisure events and venues manager JD Marrable adds: “Obviously there’s a little bit of tit for tat between the two coaches and the two franchises this year which leads to a bit of excitement.”
Marrable says he’s also excited because Auckland’s one of Queenstown’s major tourism markets.
“The pre-season games work well for our region because the weather’s fantastic, mums and dads can come for a long weekend and the children can get up close and personal to the players – they can‘t always get that at the bigger stadiums.”
The 5.30pm match will be free for school students and $20 for adults.
Marrable says the equivalent pre-season game this year – which clashed with a big concert at Gibbston Valley Winery – was free because there was limited lead-in time.
Clark adds that February’s game will be the first of three annual pre-season games in Queenstown.
Meanwhile, he confirms that local businessman John Davies and his family will continue sponsoring All Black winger Hosea Gear for a second season.
Securing Gear helped coach Jamie Joseph snare some of his recent high-profile signings, Clark suggests.
The Highlanders boss, however, says it’s unlikely Queenstown will get any more Super 15 games for the foreseeable future – the last match was in 2010.
It’s not financially viable for the Highlanders to play any more than one game outside Dunedin’s new Forsyth Barr Stadium each year, Clark says, and that match is likely to be in Invercargill.