All Blacks to host Fiji despite travel ban


WELLINGTON, New Zealand, April 29- The All Blacks will warm up for this year's Tri-Nations with a July Test against Fiji, despite a ban on players and officials linked to the country's military regime, according to officials.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) on Friday said Fiji would send a strong team for the July 22 fixture in Dunedin, despite the Wellington government’s travel ban targeting associates of the Fiji junta.

"The NZRU has not asked the New Zealand government for any exemptions to the travel ban in place," said chief executive Steve Tew.

"The Fiji Rugby Union will field a competitive team within the parameters of the travel ban and see this Test as a major build-up for their Rugby World Cup campaign.

"The Fijian government has confirmed they have no objections to the team travelling to New Zealand for the match."

New Zealand imposed travel bans on members of Fiji’s military regime, which seized power in a 2006 coup, after Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama reneged on a promise to hold elections in 2009.

The government has said the bans will remain in place during this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand unless Bainimarama commits to hold national polls by 2014. It is not known how many players and officials are affected.

Tew said the NZRU had planned to hold the match at the new Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin being built for the World Cup, but shifted it to ageing Carisbrook, the "House of Pain", because the new venue would not be ready.

The match will be the last Test played at the iconic venue, which has hosted international rugby for more than a century.

"We are more than happy to return to Carisbrook for what will definitely be the last Test at the famous ground," he said.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the Test, which will raise money for victims of February’s Christchurch earthquake, would help preparations for the Tri-Nations and the World Cup, to be held in New Zealand from September 9.

"It’s important that we have a game together as a team so that we can reignite and build on our combinations again and give the players the best possible preparation and kick-off to the season," he said.

"So it’s fantastic that Fiji has been confirmed. We’re also delighted that we can raise money for the people of Christchurch, who are still very much in the team’s thoughts."

The 6.3-magnitude Christchurch earthquake on February 22 killed more than 180 people and destroyed much of New Zealand’s second largest city, forcing World Cup games to be moved to other venues.

New Zealand begins its Tri-Nations campaign against South Africa in Wellington on July 30.