NZ Super Rugby eyes big crowds, referee 'adjustments'

This file photo taken on February 29, 2020 shows Hurricanes fans celebrating a try during the Super Rugby match against Japan's Sunwolves at McLean Park in Napier. There will be no crowd restrictions when Super Rugby resumes in New Zealand this weekend, competition organisers said on June 8, 2020, hailing the move as a world first after professional sport's coronavirus shutdown.
This file photo taken on February 29, 2020 shows Hurricanes fans celebrating a try during the Super Rugby match against Japan's Sunwolves at McLean Park in Napier. There will be no crowd restrictions when Super Rugby resumes in New Zealand this weekend, competition organisers said on June 8, 2020, hailing the move as a world first after professional sport's coronavirus shutdown.
Image: Marty MELVILLE / AFP

Super Rugby Aotearoa is expecting bigger crowds and better refereeing this weekend, with the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) confident the 10-week domestic competition is building up a head of steam.

Crowds for the four games held so far were averaging about 26,000, an increase of more than 105% on the wider Super Rugby tournament before it was shut down due to COVID-19, NZR's Mark Robinson said.

Television viewing figures were up 88%, he added.

"It's brilliant news," Robinson told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. "There is a real excitement building and we have some real momentum."

That upward trend looks to be continuing this weekend.

Ticket sales for Saturday's clash between the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders are on track to breach 25,000, while the Canterbury Crusaders are also expecting a large crowd for their first home game.

The unbeaten Blues go into their match knowing referees have at least taken complaints about some of their decisions on board, as a stricter line on the tackle, breakdown and offside line saw a slew of penalties dished out.

Television pictures showed Blues coaching staff erupting in frustration when flanker Dalton Papali'i received a yellow card last week and NZR referees boss Bryce Lawrence conceded they got that decision wrong.

"The players are taking a little while to adjust. And the referees are taking a little while to adjust," Lawrence told Sky Sports. "We are putting our hands up and saying that we're not quite getting it right at the moment."

However, Lawrence pointed out the penalty count had fallen from the first week to the second.

"In week one the average penalty count was 30, in week two it was down to 25," he said. "We know it will take a little bit of time.

"We're close but not quite at our best."

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