The Bledisloe Cup is a rugby union competition between the national teams of Australia and New Zealand that has been competed for since the 1930s. The frequency at which the competition has been held and the number of matches played has varied, but as of 2016[update], it consists of an annual three-match series, with two of the matches also counting towards The Rugby Championship. New Zealand have had the most success, winning the trophy for the 47th time in 2018, while Australia have won 12 times.
Bledisloe Cup on display in Sydney 2014.
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There is some dispute as to when the first Bledisloe Cup match was played. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) contend that the one-off 1931 match played at Eden Park was first. However, no firm evidence has been produced to support this claim, and minutes from a New Zealand union management meeting several days later record Lord Bledisloe wishing to present a cup for the All Blacks and Wallabies to play for. The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) believe that the first match was when New Zealand toured Australia in 1932.
Between 1931 and 1981 it was contested irregularly in the course of rugby tours between the two countries. New Zealand won it 19 times and Australia four times in this period including in 1949 when Australia won it for the first time on New Zealand soil. The trophy itself was apparently 'lost' during this period and reportedly rediscovered in a Melbourne store room. In the years 1982 to 1995 it was contested annually, sometimes as a series of three matches (two in 1995) and other times in a single match. During these years New Zealand won it 11 times and Australia three times.
Since 1996 the cup has been contested as part of the annual Tri Nations tournament. Until 1998 the cup was contested in a three match series: the two Tri Nations matches between these sides and a third match. New Zealand won these series in 1996 and 1997, and Australia won it in 1998.
In 1996 and from 1999 through 2005, the third match was not played; during those years, Australia and New Zealand played each other twice as part of the Tri Nations for the cup. If both teams won one of these games, or if both games were drawn, the cup was retained by its current holder. The non-holder had to win the two games 2–0 or 1–0 (with a draw) to regain the Cup. A criticism of this system was that with the closeness in the level of ability between the two sides, years where each team won one game each were very common (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004) and in these years, many rugby fans felt dissatisfied with one team keeping the cup in a series tied at 1–1.
2006 saw the return of the 3-game contest for the Bledisloe Cup as the Tri Nations series was extended so that each team played each other 3 times. The 2007 Cup, however, reverted to the two-game contest because the Tri Nations was abbreviated that year to minimise interference with the teams' preparations for the World Cup.
The three-match format for the Bledisloe Cup continued in 2012, with the first two matches taking place as part of the 2012 Rugby Championship.
In 2008 it was announced that the Bledisloe Cup would be contested over an unprecedented four matches, with three games played in Australia and New Zealand and a fourth and potentially deciding game in Hong Kong in an effort to promote the game in Asia (the first time Australia and New Zealand played in a third country outside the Rugby World Cup). The Hong Kong match, which drew a crowd of 39,000 to see the All Blacks (which had already clinched the Bledisloe Cup) defeat the Wallabies 19–14, proved to be a financial success for the two unions, generating a reported £5.5 million. A 2010 fourth match was again set in Hong Kong Stadium but failed to attract sufficient ticket sales.
On 27 October 2018, Bledisloe Cup returned to Japan for the second time and was hosted in Yokohama with the purpose of promoting and preparing for 2019 Rugby World Cup. All Blacks beating Wallabies 37-20 in the third test to sweep the series. The attendance figures was around 46,000 which became the record for a rugby test match in Japan. The relatively poor ticket sales included about 10% arrived via giveaways because of clashing with the fixture between Japan and World XV a day before in Osaka and lack of competitiveness of Wallabies contributing to dead rubber match of the series.
Before the first match in Hong Kong, the two countries' rugby federations were considering taking Cup matches to the United States and Japan in 2009 and 2010. However, the proposed match in USA did not come to fruition.
Behind the push from World Rugby with their League of Nations concept, only one match result would count for League of Nations points but the new season schedule must be able to accommodate a second Test each year in the new format. The gate receipts from Bledisloe Cup match ups are critical to both Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby Union and both nations are firm in their belief that one home match is mandatory. The third Bledisloe, which has long been a cash cow for both nations, could cease to exist. Any cash lost from forfeiting that match would be compensated by A$18 million per year in League of Nations broadcast revenue.
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In 2018 edition, Black Ferns and Wallaroos played Tests as curtain-raisers to both Bledisloe Cup Tests in Sydney and Auckland. The crowd at the end of both women's Tests swelled to about 28,000. The women's double-header concept was deemed as a success by NZR CEO Steve Tew who is open to repeating the concept. For the equivalent match at Eden Park in 2016, also before the men's clash, the crowd size peaked at 12,500.
In Australia, the Bledisloe Cup was televised between 1992 and 1995 by Network Ten. Since 1996, Fox Sports has televised it. They jointly televised it with Seven Network between 1996 and 2010, Nine Network in 2011 and 2012 and Network Ten since 2013.
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- "Australia 14–19 New Zealand". BBC Sport. 1 November 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
- "US & Japan may host Bledisloe Cup". BBC Sport. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
- "Rugby: Bledisloe test locked in for Hong Kong". Otago Daily Times. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
- AAP (1 July 2009). "Wallabies to take on All Blacks in Tokyo". The Roar. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
- "Rugby: NZ beats Australia 37-20 to sweep Bledisloe Cup series". Mainichi. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
- "Rugby: Japan 'special' venue for World Cup, All Blacks captain says". Kyodo News. 27 October 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
- "Capacity crowd not expected for Bledisloe Cup test". Japan Times. 26 October 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
- Phillips, Sam (5 February 2019). "Rugby Championship change likely as World League talks gain steam". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
- "Bledisloe Cup Japan fixture could suffer after All Blacks win series". ESPN Scrum. 27 August 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2019.