The English Rugby Union, the RFU, have agreed to a date change, enabling New Zealand another attempt at a prestigious Grand Slam Tour. The All Blacks and England will now contest the Hillary Shield on December the 4th before playing Scotland on the November the 13th, Ireland on November the 20th and Wales on November the 27th.
This is an important concession for the NZRU as it means they get the All Black players back a week earlier than expected in order to recuperate before the big 2011 season ahead. The ‘knock-out’ tour element of a Grand Slam is in itself important 2011 World Cup preparation. The timing change also allows the NZRU a revenue-generating opportunity to arrange an Asian Bledisloe Cup test against Australia on the 30th of October.
The Grand Slam tour, where a team plays each of the home unions, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, on a single tour, is considered one of the hardest tours in rugby to complete. The All Blacks themselves have attempted it ten times and achieved it three times. Historically they have also been rare to even attempt due to the scheduling difficulties. The All Blacks did not even attempt a Grand Slam between their first successful attempt in 1978 and their second successful attempt in 2004. However, due to the increase of tests being played in a year and the temptation of additional tests being revenue sharing for the touring team, they have become much more common. New Zealand won another a few years later in 2008, while the Australia had a failed attempt in 2009.
The South African Springboks have the most successful Grand Slam tours of the Southern Hemisphere teams with four, and also have a Grand Slam tour scheduled in 2010. There last Grand Slam tours were failed attempts in 1998 and 2004. Their last successful tour was in 1969, so they will be especially keen for a successful tour in 2010.