Filepic shows the New Zealand rugby team preforming the 'haka' before a test match in 2010. - AFP
SUBANG: It doesn’t get any bigger than this.
Reigning World Cup champions New Zealand All Blacks are set to play a one-off match in Malaysia this year as part of their preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
The match, which has been sanctioned by the Malaysian Rugby Union (MRU) and their New Zealand counterparts, will see the All Blacks, who are unbeaten in 14 Test matches thus far, take on a yet-to-be-named team.
MRU president Datuk Wira Amiruddin Embi described the match with the All Blacks a coup for Malaysia, saying it could do wonders in raising the profile of both rugby and Malaysia – especially with 2014 being Visit Malaysia Year.
“We were approached with the idea last year and, after much deliberation and planning, it was approved two days ago. There’s still a lot of discussions to be held with the commissioner of sports and getting the date and venue finalised, but we are beyond pleased to be hosting them here,” said Amiruddin at the launch of the 2014 Malaysian Rugby Super League at the Grand Dorsett on Sunday.
“The other team will be decided later ... although it’s a one-off match, there is so much positives that we can gain from it. It doesn’t matter who they meet because having them play will surely help to pique local interest in the sport.”
The All Blacks have yet to play in Malaysia. In 2010, the Classic All Blacks were in town for the Spirit of Rugby Challenge when they took on a World XV. New Zealand’s Sevens team also competed here during the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Meanwhile, defending champions Keris Conlay are determined to prove that winning last year’s Malaysian Rugby Super League title was no fluke as they look to make it two titles in a row.
The 12-team competition will take place from Feb 22-April 20 and will see all the usual suspects in action, including last year’s runners-up UiTM Lions, SSTMI, Cobra, NS Wanderers and Serdang Angels.
Conlay qualified for three consecutive finals before achieving a breakthrough last year, when they beat UiTM Lions 35-8 for their maiden title.
Assistant manager Mohd Farid Syazwan admitted that it would be tougher now that they have a target on their backs.
“We made three finals before tasting victory last year. So, it was a long wait for us and now we know what it feels like to win and we don’t want it to end. We’d love to retain the title ... maybe get a run going,” said Farid, adding that Conlay will again have Fijians Etonia Vaqa Saukuru and Jone Marawa Masalo at their disposal.
“It’s a mix of old and new faces. We also have two new Fijians joining us so it’ll be exciting. It won’t be easy, it’s an eagerly contested tournament and all the teams have prepared well and will be looking to get themselves in contention.”