Wyndham considering step up to Southland premiers

Wyndham is investigating a potential move to Southland’s premier club rugby competition next year and the hope is other division one clubs might follow.

Wyndham was the beaten division one finalist in 2017, then this year won the competition under the coaching guidance of former Black Fern Casey Robertson.

Wyndham Rugby Club president Aaron Davidson said the discussion around a step up to premier was prompted by the players themselves.

The club officials were prepared to back the players in whatever competition they wanted to compete in, he said.

Many Southland rugby followers have highlighted a concern in recent years around the state of Southland’s premier club competition, given it has been reduced to six teams.  It has been made up of five town clubs and the Eastern-Northern Barbarians based out of Gore.

At the same time the division one competition has flourished, with 10 country clubs involved in a tight and well-supported competition.

As a result, a town-country divide has simmered away in Southland rugby circles, with division one clubs not showing any interest in making the step up to the premier grade.

Wyndham’s potential move could help break that divide and lead to a possible merger of the premier grade with the leading division one teams.

Davidson said if they did not have a crack at premier rugby, the club would most likely lose players who wanted to be involved with it.

He said meetings had been held with Rugby Southland officials, as well as other division one clubs, and  he hoped a decision either way could be made in the coming weeks.

Wyndham does have history in the premier ranks, which includes winning the Galbraith Shield title in 1997.

Midlands coach Dayna Cunningham had also met with Wyndham to discuss the prospect of stepping up to the premier grade, and there was hope other division one powerhouses Waikaka and Edendale may also investigate a move.

Cunningham said his personal opinion was that decisions needed to be made according to what was best for Southland rugby, rather than just for individual clubs.

He said Southland rugby needed to grow the number of premier teams and in turn the pool of players playing at the highest club level.

He felt that increased premier player pool could play a role in helping the Stags become more competitive in the Mitre 10 Cup in the future.

He said it was easy for people to criticise the performance of the Stags, but if those people at club level were not prepared for change, "they were throwing stones in a glasshouse".

Cunningham said the most pleasing development from recent meetings was clubs  recognising the current model needed to change.

Clubs were starting to "sing from the same song sheet" for the first time in many years, he said.

- Logan Savory

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