Super Rugby Aotearoa is expecting bigger crowds and better refereeing this weekend, with the CEO 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, said NZR’s Mark Robinson.

Television viewing figures were up 88%, he said.

“It’s brilliant news,” Robinson said  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 Blues and Highlanders are on track to breach 25,000, while the Crusaders also expect a big  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.”