May 17, 2017 / 6:55 AM / 7 months ago

All Blacks to play Japan in 2018 to boost World Cup interest

TOKYO (Reuters) - The All Blacks will travel to Japan next year to play the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosts in a test match aimed at boosting interest in the tournament.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English attends a joint news conference with New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew and Japan Rugby Football Union President Tadashi Okamura in Tokyo, Japan May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Steve Hansen’s side will meet the Brave Blossoms at a yet-to-be-decided venue on Nov. 3 before heading to Europe for their end of season tour, the world champions said in a statement.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said that the test would help boost the profile of the World Cup, which will be held in Asia for the first time in 2019.

“This will be a fantastic opportunity for promotion of the World Cup here in Japan,” English told reporters in Tokyo during a visit as head of a trade delegation.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph said his side would stick to their own style against the All Blacks. The 2019 hosts have been drawn alongside Ireland and Scotland for the pool stage.

“We can’t play the same way as the All Blacks or the Wallabies or the Irish, we have to play our own brand of rugby that is going to be successful when it comes down to World Cup,” he added.

Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) President Tadashi Okamura added that the match was a perfect appetiser for the first World Cup in Asia.

New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew (C), Japan's head coach Jamie Joseph (L) and Japan Rugby Football Union President Tadashi Okamura pose for a photograph during their joint news conference in Tokyo, Japan May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“It is a great pleasure to welcome the All Blacks back to Japan for a match less than one year out from Japan hosting Rugby World Cup 2019,” Okamura said in a statement.

“Matches don’t come much bigger than against the current world champions. In many ways it will be a curtain-raiser to the tournament in 2019.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

The two sides have met five times before, although the first two games in Japan in 1987 were not accorded test status. Their first official test was at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa where the All Blacks won 145-17.

They also met in the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, where the All Blacks won 83-7, before they recorded a 54-6 victory in Tokyo in 2013.

The Brave Blossoms have improved markedly since then and recorded the biggest upset in World Cup history when they beat two-times champions South Africa 34-32 in their opening match of the 2015 tournament in England.

New Zealand coach Hansen said the Japan game would help with their preparations for the global showpiece.

“The match against the Brave Blossoms will be an important part of our preparation towards 2019,” Hansen said in a statement. “It’ll give our team the chance to experience the unique environment and culture we will return to the following year.”

Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford

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