The flags are up, the pitch is being prepared, the teams have arrived in town – and Hamilton is ready for the All Blacks’ farewell Test before they embark on their mission to claim a third straight Rugby World Cup title.
Hamilton’s FMG Stadium Waikato hosts the All Blacks’ final home Test of the season this Saturday, as the three-time world champions meet Tonga’s Ikale Tahi on Saturday.
Test week in Hamilton involves several activities – and its Tongan fans who get the first chance to meet and greet their team, this afternoon (Monday, 2 September) at Marist Park when the side hosts an open training session from 3pm. The training session runs until 4.15pm, followed a few brief formalities and the opportunity for fans to meet the players.
On Friday morning, the All Blacks host a fan barbecue in Garden Place, from 10am, with members of the team cooking and serving up a classic Kiwi diet staple.
Saturday’s Test match kicks off at 2.35pm – a rare afternoon match in the modern professional rugby era – and is preceded by a special festival curtain-raiser match featuring the New Zealand Barbarian Legends and the Pacific Legends, starting at 12.10pm.
The New Zealand Barbarians vs Pacific Legends match will see teams of former players strap on the boots to support Mai Body Mai Future – an initiative launched last year which sees rugby players of Pacifica origin role modelling healthy lifestyles to fight obesity and diabetes, two health challenges Pacifica people face.
The teams for the 12.10pm curtain raiser include former internationals DJ Forbes and Carlos Spencer, and will be coached by All Blacks legend Sir Michael Jones (New Zealand Barbarians Legends) and Tana Umaga (Pacific Legends).
The two early kick-offs make for a family-friendly afternoon of festival and Test match rugby in Hamilton, and a final chance for fans of both teams to show their support before they depart for Japan.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen has signalled he will field the strongest team available, while Tonga – whose Rugby World Cup team is named today – will be looking to build on an impressive performance in a tight match with Fiji on Saturday evening.