By DANIEL GILHOOLY - NZPA
What a difference a year and a tweaking of rugby's laws can make.
Twelve months ago a Christchurch crowd of less 20,000 watched a tepid affair between the All Blacks and Italy, prompting New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) officials to reconsider the city as a venue for big tests.
Tomorrow night a sellout of close to 39,000 will watch the second Bledisloe Cup test, following a week in which rugby and the return "home" of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has received widespread coverage.
It all points to an upswing in public support for the national game, particularly in Christchurch, a barometer for measuring interest since the NZRU chose incumbent Graham Henry over Deans for the national coaching post following the 2007 World Cup failure.
Disgruntlement with that decision has lingered and the subsequent football World Cup heroics of the All Whites along with an average Super 14 return for New Zealand teams suggested rugby's fan base may suffer a hit.
However, the All Blacks' compelling style - prompted by new law interpretations - and winning the first six tests of the year may have swung the pendulum back, according to assistant coach Wayne Smith.
"I've sensed since the beginning of the year, before the Irish test, a real shift of support behind the team," he said.
"You have to earn respect. It's hard-earned and it's easily lost.
"They're a knowledgable public, which is good for us. The boss (Henry) has always said high expectations are great because you wouldn't play any good if you didn't have them."
First five-eighth Daniel Carter believed the increased visits by All Blacks players into the community during test weeks was good for the sport and he had noticed their growing popularity.
Captain Richie McCaw said the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand may be entering the consciousness of fans.
"I don't know if next year's got something to do with it but certainly, there's a bit more excitement around the game," he said.
"People who wouldn't normally say too much or who don't watch a lot of rugby, all of a sudden talk to you about enjoying what they see."