YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese rugby officials expect Saturday’s venue for the third Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia to be less than two-thirds full, raising concerns about interest in the sport just a year out before the country hosts the World Cup.
A spokesman for the Japanese Rugby Football Union said in an email he expected “about 45,000” would attend the test at Yokohama’s 72,000 capacity stadium, which will also host the World Cup final in November next year.
World Rugby and the JRFU had been hoping local fans would have been enthusiastic about the game but interest may have dimmed with the All Blacks already having retained the Bledisloe Cup by winning the first two games against the Wallabies.
They may also have been put off by ticket prices, with the cheapest on sale for 7,000 JPY (49 pounds).
Fans are also shelling out for tickets to see the World Cup hosts play a World XV in Osaka later on Friday while there is high demand for their game against the All Blacks in Tokyo next weekend.
Steve Tew, the head of New Zealand Rugby, said on Thursday he was not concerned about ticket sales and that Japan was still a promising market.
“I don’t think it will have any bearing on our future intent in this market. We have identified Japan as a focus for both Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby,” he said.
“It is not ideal that the Cup has already been won, if the series was 1-1 then I am sure we would be playing in a very full house.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford