The historic inter-island clash will take place for the first time in eight years at Eden Park in Auckland on August 29, effectively acting as an All Blacks trial the day before Ian Foster’s 35-man national squad is announced.
A focal point of discussion following the confirmation of the fixture was how players would be eligible to represent each island.
Where a player was born, went to school or first played senior club rugby were among the most commonly suggested eligibility criteria, but Foster revealed in June that selection would be based on what Mitre 10 Cup province each player first represented.
That’s left some of New Zealand’s top stars feeling conflicted about the side they’ll be playing for, with multiple examples of players who will represent the opposite island to that which they feel attached to.
Jordie Barrett, for instance, is only be eligible for the South Island after having initially played for Canterbury at provincial level, despite being born, raised and schooled in New Plymouth.
His older brother Beauden, meanwhile, is likely to don the No. 10 jersey for the North Island.
It works the other way as well, with Invercargill-born, Christchurch-schooled All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie speaking out about the conflicting emotions he feels about playing for the North Island after playing for Waikato.
“Absolutely. It’s a great concept. Great for the fans and great for the players. I’ve always been keen to bring back the North v South game. Obviously growing up in Southland, that’s where my roots are – and going to school in Christchurch,” he told The Breakdown in June.
“It would be nice to be eligible to play for the South Island squad but obviously [my] first provincial game was for Waikato so that’s the rules and the eligibility. If I was to play for either team I’m happy but it looks like my hand will be up for the North Island team.”
Speaking to media on Wednesday, Highlanders pivot Ioane, who made his provincial debut for Otago three years ago, echoed McKenzie’s sentiments.
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If NZ's North v South eligibility is based on where players played their first game of senior club footy, as anticipated, you can expect the squads to look something like this… #rugby #rugbygram #superrugby#allblacks #northvsouth #bluesrugby #chiefsmana #hurricanesrugby #crusadersrugby #highlandersrugby #nzrugby
While born in Auckland and schooled at the city’s prestigious King’s College, the one-cap All Black is reduced to the fact that he will likely don the white of the South Island jersey in three weeks’ time.
“I’m originally from Auckland, I’m a North Island boy, but I’ve been down here for a few years,” Ioane said.
“It is conflicting, like Damian [said], but I guess that’s how Fozzy sees it so we’ll go with it.”
With two rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa remaining, there is plenty of action to be had between now and then.
Fresh off the back of a 32-21 defeat to the Blues on Sunday – a result that eliminated the Highlanders’ slim Super Rugby Aotearoa title hopes and lost them the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy for the first time in nine years – Ioane remains focused on rounding out the season on a positive note.
“That would be awesome to play in that game [North vs South], but I think for myself, there’s two massive games ahead of me that I’ve got to get through first,” he said.
“When that challenge, or if that challenge comes, then we’ll take it when it comes.”
The first stop on the Highlanders’ final fortnight of the 2020 campaign is in Christchurch on Sunday, where they face the daunting task of taking down the league-leading Crusaders in front of their home fans.
A win for the visitors will blow the title race wide open, with both the Blues and Hurricanes reliant on the Crusaders losing to keep their respective seasons alive.
That’s easier said than done against a team that had a 36-game unbeaten streak at Orangetheory Stadium up until two weeks ago, and Ioane knows how difficult the task at hand is for his side.
“We know the Crusaders are a quality side and we know what we’re up against,” the 25-year-old said.
“Every time you play the Crusaders, you know it’s going to be a big game.”
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