Get ready Mid Canterbury - the All Blacks are coming to town next week!
In keeping with a tradition started in 2011, and with the support of the team's airline partner Air New Zealand, the All Blacks will this year spend Thursday 7 August having fun with various schools and communities in Paihia, Rotorua, the Kapiti Coast, Greymouth and Ashburton, before they assemble in Auckland to prepare for the opening Investec Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia.
Local provincial unions, town authorities and All Blacks support staff and Air New Zealand have been working for months to plan the All Blacks visits around the country. A range of activities are being organised in the towns, including school visits, civic events, autograph sessions, fun activities with kids, Rippa rugby games and hospital visits. Just which players will be visiting which towns will be announced next week.
In Ashburton the All Blacks will call into Ashburton College for a skills and drills session, before visiting students at Ashburton Intermediate and having a cuppa tea with the school's staff before taking part in a public event in town.
Air New Zealand Manager Sponsorship and Communities Meghan Blair said: "As New Zealand's national airline, we are very proud of our longstanding sponsorship of the All Blacks and regularly fly the team around the world. It's a privilege to be flying the boys around regional New Zealand next week to get out and about in some of the communities we operate to."
All Blacks Manager Darren Shand said heading to towns that did not usually host All Blacks was one small way the team could acknowledge the support from loyal fans in the provinces.
"We really appreciate the support of our fans and we know it's sometimes harder for fans in the smaller towns to get to see the All Blacks. So we are taking the players to them. The players really look forward to the day and always come back into camp buzzing after their day out."
Shand said many players in the current All Blacks squad could relate to fans from small-town New Zealand.
"People forget that quite a few players in the team come from small towns, including Richie who is from the North Otago community of Kurow, so they certainly relate to fans in the provincial heartland."
Mayor Angus McKay says he is really thrilled the All Blacks are coming to our town next week.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for our community to show our loyalty to one of our national icons," says Mayor McKay.
"I encourage everyone to come out and give them a great Ashburton welcome," he says.
Other All Blacks from smaller towns include hooker Dane Coles who is from the Kapiti Coast, lock Brodie Retallick, who hails from the North Canterbury town of Amberley, his locking partner Sam Whitelock, who is from the Manawatu town of Linton, halfback Aaron Smith, who grew up down the road in Feilding, loose forward Sam Cane, who calls the Bay of Plenty town of Reporoa home, and first five-eighth Beauden Barrett who grew up on a farm in the coastal Taranaki town of Pungarehu.
Before they head home, the players will spend some time with the Air New Zealand team at Christchurch Airport, greeting the airline's customers and helping them to check in for their flights.
Tickets selling fast for Investec Rugby Championship Tests
Meanwhile, more than nearly 87,000 tickets have already been snapped up by fans for the All Blacks last three home Test matches - against Australia on 23 August in Auckland, Argentina in Napier on 7 September and South Africa on 13 September in Wellington.
Over 43,000 tickets have already been sold for the much anticipated second Bledisloe Test match at Eden Park Test, with just under 5,000 tickets left. In Napier, nearly 19,000 of the 21,900 seats have been booked up by fans for the Hawke's Bay's first All Blacks Test match in eight years. Wellington will close out the domestic Test season with the mouth-watering clash against South Africa, with fewer than 5,000 (out of 33,000) tickets still on sale.