By Liam Napier, NZ Herald

The Blues are predicting a bumper crowd in excess of 35,000 for their opening match of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday afternoon.

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The stars have aligned for rugby this week with the country’s move to coronavirus alert level 1 permitting crowds to attend both the Highlanders and Chiefs match in Dunedin on Saturday, and the Blues and Hurricanes the following day.

Blues chief executive Andrew Hore could not hide his delight as tickets – upwards of 20,000 – flew out the door for a match in which Beauden Barrett will make his debut for the franchise.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa | Beauden Barrett press conference

“I think that’s a sign of the fact that people want to go and have some form of social experience,” Hore said as he predicted a turnout not seen at a Blues match since they last made the playoffs in 2011. “We think in excess of 35,000 which would be an amazing result and will make for a fantastic atmosphere and a lift for the players.”

The Blues have capitalised on the public’s keenness to make the most of their regained freedoms by discounting general admission tickets, allowing kids to attend free, organising free public transport and gaining approval for fans to flood onto the Eden Park pitch at the conclusion of the match.

“What we’re trying to do is bring back a bit of old school with the kids going free and after the game Eden Park have said we can have the fans on the pitch which is a big lift. Those kinds of things make for memorable moments when you’re a young person. We want to celebrate the game.”

In something of a welcome appreciation, Hore expressed his thanks for every ticket sale which will help offset major financial challenges faced by all involved in rugby at present.

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Hore said when Covid-19 halted the Super Rugby season on March 12 the Blues were forecasting $1 million in ticket sales from that month. Ticket sales would also help those involved in security, catering and the like.

“When you look at it from that perspective it’s huge. The other thing you’ve got to be mindful in all of this is that helps us exist in the second half of the year when we don’t have rugby.

“Now we have the issue of looking forward a year or two years. Although this gives us a bit of a hit to help address some of the peoples’ wages there’s still next year. We don’t know what the borders are going to be and so on.

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“It’s not rivers are gold out there it’s going to have to be a very conservative approach in the way we take it. Everyone that buys a ticket we value it, basically. It will help this place moving forward.

“It makes a massive difference to getting that industry up and running again and the businesses that feed off rugby.

“If there’s one thing this whole event has taught us it’s even the players understanding the wider commercial engine that goes in behind professional rugby.”

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission.

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