By Daniel Nielsen,
MAIL PHOTO / PATRICK HAMILTON 130680
REAL PRIZE: Jeweller Halfdan Hansen with the trophy created in his Nelson shop for the Telecom Virtual Super 14 rugby competition.Virtual rugby has become so popular in New Zealand that the best player will get a $10,000 trophy made in Nelson.
More than 143,000 people are playing Telecom's online Virtual Super 14 game, in which rugby fans compete by picking winners and point margins of Super 14 rugby games.
Telecom asked Nelson's Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith to make a smaller version of the real Super 14 trophy, which has been crafted by the local business.
Telecom sponsorship manager Peter Parussini said the trophy was made because of the popularity and prestige associated with the virtual competition.
"We heard that last year's competition winner was being asked for his autograph wherever he went. Given
that there's a trophy for the team which wins the Super 14, we thought it only appropriate that New Zealand's cleverest rugby fan be awarded a trophy for their efforts."
In its first year, 2002, 37,000 played Virtual Super 12 (now Super 14). The next year, 75,000 people participated and in 2004, 105,000 played. Last year 137,000 people took part.
Thirty percent of virtual rugby players are Hurricanes fans and after 10 rounds, two Hurricanes fans - "Forsyth" and "Hutt Demons" - are tied for the competition lead with 392 points each.
Crusaders fans make up 21 percent, Blues fans 19 percent, Chiefs fans 12 percent and Highlanders fans 11 percent.
More than 35,000 players (26 percent) are based outside New Zealand's major cities and towns, while 10 percent of players live overseas.
As well as winning the trophy, the winner receives a car.
Jens Hansen business manager Halfdan Hansen was amazed by the popularity of virtual rugby. It had been a "special thrill" to design the actual Super 14 trophy, but being asked to make a trophy competed for by more than 140,000 people was "something else", he said.
The $10,000 trophy is silver-plated, cast in sculptor's bronze and has a rugby ball shaped like a computer mouse in the logo. It stands 33cm tall and weighs 2.1kg. The actual Super 14 trophy is 49cm tall and weighs 2.7kg.