Top ex-ABs to play Classic match in resort

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Legendary New Zealand rugby players Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson and Andrew Mehrtens will lace up their boots in Queenstown. 

They’re among stars of yesteryear confirmed in the Classic All Blacks team to play the French Classics at the Recreation Ground, on September 18, during the Rugby World Cup. 

The French team will include stars like Phillipe Bernard-Salles, Yann Delaigue and Christian Califano. 

Ex-All Black Andy Haden – who manages the Classic brand for the NZ Rugby Union – was in town this week. 

He discussed match arrangements with game underwriters Destination Queens-town, and the local organisers Sevens With Altitude committee who run the national rugby sevens. 

DQ marketing boss Graham Budd initially championed the game to Haden, after Queenstown missed out on hosting a RWC match. 

Haden says the French Classics were keen to play during this year’s RWC in NZ, after playing the Classic ABs before the 2007 tournament in France. 

“When Queenstown was looking for something like this, we said to DQ, ‘Here’s an opportunity’, and they jumped at it. It’s a great opportunity to play in one of the iconic centres of NZ. 

“Rugby is ingrained in the local region and the Classic ABs are the heritage of the game.” 

Budd says DQ is underwriting about $15,000 in airfares for the Classic ABs. 

“We fully expect the underwritten amount to be recovered from the event revenues.” 

French seed company Maisadour Semences is sponsoring flights for the French Classics. 

Queenstown’s The Rees also offered to accommodate both teams. 

“It was a clincher to try to make it happen”, Rees manager Mark Rose says. 

“It’s a great thing for Queenstown, especially now as there aren’t too many [RWC] games in the South Island after the Christchurch quake.” 

Ground tickets will be $10, or free for kids aged 16 and under. Tickets for a temporary 246-seat stand can be pre-booked for $25 plus a booking fee. 

Corporate tents will also be sold for $1250. Afterwards there will be a $100-a-head formal dinner at the Memorial Hall, which the players will attend. 

Proceeds from this will go to the Wakatipu and Arrowtown rugby clubs, who’ll provide match-day manpower. 

Haden expects TV crews from the Rugby Channel, Maori TV and France to cover the game. Afterwards, the French players and supporters will head for Auckland to watch the RWC pool match between NZ and France, he says.