11 Dec

ANZC Competition to remain unchanged
by Tracey Nelson
11 Dec 2009

The NZRU Board has decided that the current 14-team premier competition and 12-team Heartland Championship will be retained in the same formats as the 2009 season for the forthcoming 2010 season.

The current collective employment negotiations still underway with the NZ Rugby Players’ Asoociation, and the threat of several of the provincial unions lodging appeals and potential legal action were major factors in the board’s deliberations yesterday at NZRU headquarters in Wellington. The overall decision was based on a recommendation from NZRU Management to maintain the status quo for next year, following many months of consultation and fact finding on how to make the the new competition format viable. NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs said that with the competition formats now being a key component of the collective employment negotiations, it was unlikely that any resolution would have been found before March of 2010.

The combination of appeals lodged by the Tasman and Counties-Manakau unions, and the likelihood of legal action from other unions has essentially left the NZRU with no room to manoeuvre. With supporter numbers up in the non-Franchise unions across New Zealand, the ground swell to keep the current 14 team Premier Division as it is reached a fever pitch towards the end of this year’s competition and to cull the top division of four sides would have seen an ill-afforded backlash against the NZRU. Many of the smaller unions have also disupted that there was blanket approval from them to change the domestic competition, despite NZRU CEO Steve Tew noting that the intial call for change came from the nine non-Franchise provincial unions back in April this year.

However, the problem of the window for the competition remains – exacerbated by the lengthening of the TriNations series into October and end of year tours that see the All Blacks only making token appearances in the national competition. Along with a realistic competition structure, there will need to be an affordable and sustainable player payment model and a salary cap. It is unfeasible for the domestic competition to continue to play out until early November, and player welfare along with viewing numbers will have to come into force. Meanwhile, the Board’s previous decision to structure the domestic competition as a 10-6-10 format in 2011 and 2012 remains, subject to continued negotiations with the NZ Rugby Players’ Association and the NZRU.

While the outcome may not be what the NZRU had in mind, there will no doubt be plenty of celebration at the grass roots of the game. This year proved to many that the lifeblood of our national game still lies in the provinces, and with unions such as Northland, Manawatu and Tasman all finding ways to get their finances out of the red this season (unlike many of the bigger, Franchise unions) they now have the chance to continue to foster the next generation of All Blacks in their home regions. Indeed, a victory for the game itself.

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