Super Rugby Aotearoa: Continuing fan engagement critical for NZ Rugby, says John Hart

One of the most respected voices in the game has implored NZ Rugby to capitalise on renewed interest in the game.

The opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa drew bumper crowds to both fixtures.

Former All Blacks coach and Blues board member John Hart is challenging the governing body to do everything it can to keep them coming.

"Those scenes at Eden Park yesterday, they were fantastic," Hart tells Newshub. "I haven't seen anything like it for many, many years."

But the challenge now is to sustain it. Hart says it's all about fan engagement and giving people more than just 80 minutes of rugby.

"We've got to make sure that we give the fans the experience they want. They've got to come along and say this is a great thing to come along to.  

John Hart at Blues training last year.
John Hart at Blues training last year. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's not just the rugby, it's the whole way they can interact."

One of the big successes of the weekend was allowing fans onto the park after the match, which Blues coach Leon MacDonald wants to see continue.

"It feels a bit of back-to-the-old, but it's the right way," MacDonald says. "I think we've lost touch of that slightly as time's gone on, but there's going to be a lot of kids who remember this for a long time." 

The return of the afternoon kick-off has long been in demand and it was clearly a factor in the Blues' first sellout in 15 years.

"I think it's great for everyone," adds Blues fullback Beauden Barrett. "The product is pretty good and the ball isn't dewy, so you see a more expansive game." 

Hart senses rugby is already turning a corner, learning that it can't just rely on Kiwis' passion for the game to bring in crowds.

"I think we've become a bit 'so so' and we haven't thought enough outside the norm," Hart adds.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: Continuing fan engagement critical for NZ Rugby, says John Hart