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Air New Zealand Cup launched

New Zealand's new domestic rugby showpiece - the Air New Zealand Cup - was officially launched in grand style on Thursday.

A new trophy was unveiled, along with the launch of a comprehensive new advertising campaign and New Zealand rugby's biggest ever press conference.

The launch was held at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium - home this year to the Counties Manukau Steelers. In launching the new competition, New Zealand Rugby Union Deputy Chief Executive Steve Tew told the audience this year would be a very special season of provincial rugby.

"It is a new chapter in the long and colourful history of provincial rugby in New Zealand," said Tew.

"Over the next 13 weeks, we will see well over 300 of New Zealand's best players from the 14 Air New Zealand Cup provinces carry the honour of their provinces out onto the rugby field," he said.

In a New Zealand first, the biggest ever rugby press conference, held at the launch, brought together players and coaches from each of the Air New Zealand Cup provinces - Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Counties Manukau, Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, North Harbour, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman, Waikato and Wellington.

The competition's new sterling silver trophy, the Air New Zealand Cup, made by famed Lord of the Rings 'One Ring' designers, Jens Hansen of Nelson, was also unveiled at the launch. The trophy is modelled on the Air New Zealand Cup logo.

The Air New Zealand Cup competition kicks off on Friday 28 July when Hawke's Bay, making their return to the top-flight domestic competition, hosts Canterbury in Napier.

The first weekend also sees the other three new teams - Counties Manukau, Manawatu and Tasman - in action at home. The final will be played on 21 October.