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All Blacks and Flying Fijians will play rugby test in San Diego in July

SAN DIEGO (AP) — New Zealand is playing a home test abroad for the first time when it faces South Pacific rival Fiji at San Diego State's Snapdragon Stadium on July 19.

It will be the first time the All Blacks and the Flying Fijians meet at a neutral site, as well as Fiji's inaugural visit to the United States.

The All Blacks have played exhibition matches in the United States since 1906, including a 53-6 victory against the U.S. at what was then known as San Diego Stadium in October 1980. That stadium was replaced by 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium, which opened in 2022.

“It’s a massive step for New Zealand rugby, bringing a home test over to the States,” said Ma’a Nonu, the All Blacks great who recently re-signed with the San Diego Legion, a founding member of Major League Rugby.

Given most American rugby fans have seen the All Blacks only on TV, “coming to the States is pretty exciting when the All Blacks touch down here," Nonu said at a news conference Wednesday.

The All Blacks narrowly missed a record fourth Rugby World Cup title in October, losing the final to South Africa 12-11. Fiji beat Australia for the first time in 69 years and made the quarterfinals, equaling its best ever finish.

Fijian great Waisale Serevi, a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame, said the test match will be huge for his country, as well.

“Giving Fiji the opportunity to play them on neutral ground, for a small country, is a blessing for Fiji,” Serevi said. “It’s an honor and a privilege for Fiji to be invited.”

The test will help promote the sport in the United States, which will host the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the women's championship in 2033.

"It's been a long-held ambition for New Zealand Rugby and part of our wider strategy to increase the visibility and understanding of rugby in North America and to build our brand presence ahead of the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033, respectively," New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson said in a statement.

The San Diego match is one of 14 test matches the All Blacks will play in nine countries in their first season under new coach Scott Robertson.

Robertson's first tests in charge will be against England at Dunedin on July 6 and in Auckland on July 13. Then they fly to San Diego to face Fiji.

New Zealand will play home Rugby Championship tests against Argentina at Wellington on Aug. 10 and Auckland on Aug. 17. It will then play world champion South Africa at Johannesburg on Aug. 31 and Cape Town on Sept. 7.

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby