Dramatic erosion of player base major concern

Earle Kirton: "i cannot bear to watch". Photo: ODT files
Earle Kirton: "i cannot bear to watch". Photo: ODT files
It is a game which has given Earle Kirton so much. But he says it is being stolen off us and we need to do something about it.

Kirton, who played 100 games for Otago, was an All Black and then an All Black selector and assistant coach.

A retired dentist, Kirton has joined a group which is looking to make change. He is joined by the likes of Ian Kirkpatrick, Mark Shaw, Allan Hewson and Dave Loveridge.

The group is being organised by Wellington businessman Doug Catley, who was a long-time coach of sides in the capital.

Advertisements have gone into newspapers for support.

Kirton is one of those who has real concerns about the game, the way it is played and administered and how the base is eroding.

"The most alarming thing to me is the amount of kids dropping off.

"It is a ginormous drop-off - over 80% from those who start playing at primary school until they leave high school," he said.

"You’ve got to have the base there to keep the top going. But the base is eroding. Young guys are not playing anymore. Mothers are pulling them out with all the worry about the concussion.

"The thing about the game it used to a game of evasion. Now it is invasion. The guys just want to hold on to the ball and lock it up. It is boring, the game is boring."

"You stick a few giants out in the backline and they just charge it up, and get tackled. Then it gets done again. Then after they have played 35 minutes they go off."

The former first five-eighth said league had the right idea last year when it changed the rules to having fewer reserves and having a "six again" call instead of penalties.

"Players of bulk in league have now been forced to lose weight so they can be more mobile.

He said the same thing needed to happen in rugby, halving the number of reserves.

"I look back at the New Zealand Universities team and the games they won. They beat the Lions by running them round. By the end of the game, the Lions were tired.

"But now you have eight guys coming off the bench to play for 30 minutes at the end.

"It’s sad. I have had so much fun from the game, met so many good people. But you talk to people now and they say their grandkids are playing soccer or playing nothing.

"It is a great game but it is going back to being too heavy.

"The skinny, quick guy - he can’t play any more."

Professional players earned 36% of revenue generated from the game - "but there would not be a company in the world which had a set-up like that".

Kirton said the players and administrators in the professional era had stolen the game from the community. Now was the time , with the isolation caused by Covid-19, to make big changes to get it back.

In the 1995 World Cup team he helped pick, more than three-quarters of the team could be linked back to a second or third division union. Now players went to an academy straight out of school and into a professional team.

"They reckon half the tries at the last Rugby World Cup came from rolling mauls.

"What a bore. I can not bear to watch it."

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