1 Sep 2020

North-South players chasing All Blacks spots, but will there be any test rugby?

10:08 am on 1 September 2020

The North and South squads have had their first training ahead of this weekend's veritable All Blacks trial, but will there be any international rugby this year?

Aaron Smith wears a mask during a North Island rugby team training session at Hutt Rec in Lower Hutt on Monday 31 August 2020. © Copyright image by Marty Melville / www.photosport.nz

Aaron Smith (L) and TJ Perenara wear masks as they leave the North Island rugby team training session at Hutt Rec in Lower Hutt. Photo: Photosport.NZ

The inter-island match takes place amid uncertainty over whether the Rugby Championship will be played in 2020, or whether the All Blacks will have any tests at all.

The North and South teams had their first hit outs together at the Hutt Recreation ground in Lower Hutt on Monday afternoon and a near gale strength northerly wasn't enough to blow the smiles off the faces of the coaches and players, who until last week were unsure if the game would even go ahead.

For the Auckland based players in particular it was good to feel some freedom after two and a half weeks at alert level 3.

"It's cool man [that the game is being played]. It's something I think the whole of New Zealand has been looking forward to happening and I know the boys were excited to get down here and have the chance to bang up some of their mates."

North hooker Kurt Ekland was thrilled to be out of his Auckland house, and he's confident the Tamaki Makaurau based players won't have lost too much conditioning during the lockdown.

"We're all still on a pretty strict programme in terms of fitness etc. The hardest thing is trying to get that contact training without having any mates to bash into, but we've been creative getting our fix there."

The All Blacks assistant coaches are in charge of the teams, Scott McLeod and John Plumtree the North and Greg Feek and Brad Mooar the South.

McLeod says there's plenty of competition for bragging rights among the coaching group.

"There's loads on the line, loads on the line. The banter started sometime ago and it's only intensified since we landed in Wellington."

The teams have just four training's to become a cohesive unit and build some culture.

North team training. Kurt Ekland (hooker) in the Auckland jersey.

North team training. Kurt Ekland (hooker) in the Auckland jersey. Photo: Photosport.NZ

In that sense the North and Ekland are slightly ahead of their rivals.

"The lads love a bit of a Tik Tok, I'm not much of a Tik Tok-er myself, but that's providing some laughs. We've got a team chant that we went over this morning, we we're going to bust it out at training today, but there were too many cameras. We'll leave that one in the back pocket for a bit later."

As of Monday afternoon, the South were yet to form a team song and no fans will be chanting on Saturday, with the game to be played at an empty Wellington stadium.

Supporters miss out this weekend with the country at alert level 2, but will anyone get to watch an All Blacks test this year?

Governing body Sanzaar still hopes to hold the Rugby Championship in New Zealand, but there are significant obstacles to overcome.

McLeod is hopeful an update on the competition will be announced by the end of the week, though he says things change every day.

Feek said New Zealand Rugby has multiple plans in place, but they all depend on what happens in this country and around the world with Covid-19.

There's been speculation South Africa might forgo the tournament to play in Europe this year.

Governing body SANZAAR says it's "pure speculation" and McLeod hopes the rumours are false.

"It would be extremely different [not having the Springboks]. They're world champions so their quality would be sorely missed."

Saturday's North South game pits plenty of last year's All Blacks against potential debutants and should have some intriguing and rarely seen matchups across the park.

The first All Blacks squad of the year is named on Sunday, though if they'll get to play in 2020, remains to be seen.