Whitelock keen to revive New Zealand's 'grudge' North v South derby

Wellington (AFP) –


All Black lock Sam Whitelock has raised the prospect of rekindling New Zealand's historic North Island v South Island derby if this year's Test schedule is cancelled.

Whitelock said he had been in discussions with New Zealand Rugby, the players' association and senior Super Rugby squad members about ways to restart rugby once COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.

He said there were numerous variables, including international travel bans, which will almost certainly prevent the All Blacks playing home Tests against Wales and Scotland in July.

The Rugby Championship involving New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina is also in doubt and Whitelock said the search was on to find alternatives.

"We're talking about everything. We're looking at All Black trials and North v South if we cannot travel internationally," he told Sky Sport NZ late Tuesday.

"I've never played North v South and I've heard a few great stories about how it used to be the grudge match of the year -- it'd be quite cool to be involved in one of those."

The North v South fixture, first played in 1897, was once one of the most anticipated and bitterly contested matches in the New Zealand rugby calendar.

However, the rivalry has been neglected in recent years, only taking place twice since 1985.

The southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR has also floated the idea of domestic Super Rugby competitions, with New Zealand's five teams playing each other.

Whitelock, who has just returned from Japan after the Top League's cancellation cut short his stint with Panasonic Wild Knights, said he would rejoin Canterbury Crusaders if domestic Super Rugby goes ahead.

He said any competition would need a four-week lead-in period before commencing so players could ensure they were fit.

New Zealand will ease a strict coronavirus lockdown next week but the rules still prevent team sports from resuming in the foreseeable future.

The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association said last week that it was preparing for the nightmare scenario of no professional rugby taking place this year.

New Zealand's Super Rugby players, including All Blacks, have accepted a 50 percent pay freeze amid warnings from New Zealand Rugby that it could lose as much as NZ$100 million (US$60 million) in revenue.