Otago will be happy with whatever form the national
provincial championships takes next year, as change once
again appears to be coming to the competition.
Provincial administrators will meet in Wellington on Friday
and though nothing has been set in concrete, various options
have been put forward to the 14 unions.
Many unions wanted to get rid of midweek games, which they
felt were not financially attractive and also impacted on
players and their ability to recover from playing three games
in eight days.
Many coaches said short breaks between games led to the focus
switching to recovery, rather than actually developing
The ITM Cup was played in a condensed format this year. The
competition, including semifinals and finals was played out
over an eight-week window.
Otago played its first game on August 25 and the championship
final against Counties-Manukau was played on October 26.
To get the 10 full rounds into the window, games were played
during the week and each side played two midweek games during
Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley
said there were various scenarios to consider.
If the midweek matches were eliminated, the competition might
have to start a week earlier and go a week later.
Another alternative was to not play the semifinals and just
have a straight final.
Kinley said there were swings and roundabouts in any decision
which might be made.
Otago had one home midweek game this season, against North
Harbour, and Kinley acknowledged the crowd which attended at
Forsyth Barr Stadium - not much more than 3000 - was the
smallest of the season.
But Kinley said when the side had two games in four days in
the North Island - playing Hawkes Bay in Napier on Saturday
and Manawatu in Palmerston North on Tuesday - the side could
stay in school hostel accommodation and the union saved on
''The players' attitudes and also that of the coaches was
that as soon as you know the draw, then you plan towards
that,'' Kinley said.
He had been in contact with coach Tony Brown, who is back in
Japan, and assistant coach Phil Young, and they appeared
happy with the current situation, and would adjust should
there be changes.
Otago was lucky in some regards, as it did not suffer too
many major injuries last season. Its midweek games were also
played later in the season, so were not rushed on the union.
Other teams, such as Southland and Manawatu, ran into injury
problems and found it hard to easily replace players.
Kinley said there had been hopes the draw for next season
would come out before Christmas but that was now unlikely.
The New Zealand Rugby Players Association and the New Zealand
Rugby Union were working through a new collective agreement
and that would have to be signed off before any draw was
Otago would play the six other teams in the championship and
also face Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Auckland and Waikato.