Big drop in club player numbers

Richard Kinley.
Richard Kinley.
More than 100 players have left the Dunedin Metropolitan Rugby competition in the past year.

Pirates' decision to pull out of the premier grade grabbed the headlines, but a quick look at the competition draw reveals it is one of five teams missing this season.

The premier grade, premier two grade and senior grade tournaments have all shed one team this season, while the junior colts grade has dropped two teams.

The women's grade (five teams) and the Colts grade (nine teams) have remained the same. But overall, the competition is down from 58 teams in 2016 to 53 teams in 2017.

If you calculate on the basis of an average squad size of 30 players, then there are 150 fewer people playing the game.

That is quite an alarming fall, but also part of a wider trend which has seen the popularity of club rugby wane since the mid 1990s.

In 1995, there were 82 teams competiting in the various grades. That dropped to 57 teams in 2005. Playing numbers remained static during the next decade before dropping off again this season.

''We won't know until the registration numbers finally come in,'' Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley responded when asked if he was concerned by the decline.

''It could be that some teams have not gone ahead this year because players have gone to bigger squads ... we don't know.

''The other thing is ... the population drop in secondary aged children over the last 10 years has had a flow-on effect into senior sport as a whole.''

From 2005 to 2015 there was a drop in the number of secondary school children in the Dunedin area of 743.

''You could say that was a 100 rugby players,'' Kinley suggested.

''We need to get our registrations data in and then work with our clubs. We had a club forum at the end of last year and will continue to talk with the clubs about how we can support them to keep the game strong.

''We are always looking to position the game to involve a lot of people.''

The registrations data is expected to be available in August, but the ORFU reported a 2.9% increase in total players from 2015 to 2016.

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