Super Rugby Aotearoa is expecting bigger crowds and better refereeing this weekend, with the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) confident the 10-week domestic competition is building up a head of steam.

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Crowds for the four games held so far have been averaging about 26,000, an increase of more than 105% on the wider Super Rugby tournament before it was shut down due to COVID-19, NZR’s Mark Robinson said.

TV viewing figures are up 88%.

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“It’s brilliant news,” Robinson told reporters on Thursday. “There is a real excitement building and we have some real momentum.”

That upward trend looks set to continue this weekend.

Ticket sales for Saturday’s clash between the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders are on track to breach 25,000, while the Canterbury Crusaders are also expecting a large crowd for their first home game of the revitalised competition.

Super Rugby Aotearoa so far has been a lively affair, with the Blues coming out on top in the first two rounds of play.

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The Crusaders looked lethal against the Hurricanes in their only run-out so far while the Blues have done the deed against the Hurricanes in Auckland and now the Chiefs in Hamilton.

The Chiefs also lost their first-up match against the Highlanders in Dunedin, which leaves them second bottom on the ladder – just a point ahead of the Hurricanes.

The unbeaten Blues go into their match knowing referees have taken on board complaints about some of their decisions, as a stricter line on the tackle, breakdown and offside line saw a slew of penalties dished out.

“The players are taking a little while to adjust. And the referees are taking a little while to adjust,” referees boss Bryce Lawrence told Sky Sports.

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“We are putting our hands up and saying that we’re not quite getting it right at the moment.”

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