Junior rep teams ditched in South

Richard Perkins.
Richard Perkins.
There will be no more junior representative sides in the South as unions looks to create a development pathway and get more young players involved in bettering their skills.

That move will be mirrored right across the South Island as unions pull stumps on junior representative sides.

The decision to dump the junior teams was first put into practice by the North Harbour union in late February. It pulled all representative sides from under-14 level and below.

Otago Rugby Football Union community rugby manager Richard Perkins said instead of having representative sides from under-14 and below, it would now have coaching programmes for junior players.

The union was working through the finer details of the coaching and development programme, but it was likely to have two days in the Dunedin Metropolitan area, two days in Central Otago and two days in South/West Otago.

It was likely to involve more players than would have been selected for a representative team.

Weight grade tournaments - which have been running for more than 40 years - will not be played anymore.

They were already struggling to get numbers and just four teams played in the under-65kg grade tournament in Timaru last year.

The North Harbour union in late February said it would not pick representative teams from the under-14 age group and below as it did not see much benefit in them and it may be causing junior players to give the game away.

That was backed up a few days later by New Zealand Rugby raising concerns over player development and how it saw little benefit in junior representative teams.

The sport is worried about plunging player numbers in its junior base at primary and secondary school level.

In the south, there are under-38kg, under-48kg and under-65kg representative sides as well as under-11, under-12 and under-13 teams.

Many of these teams failed to find meaningful games to play in.

Rugby was a late specialisation sport, NZR said, and players needed a combination of playing, physical and personal qualities to be elite. These could be nurtured by having players partake in multiple sporting contests and playing lots of different sports.

NZR felt player identification should start at the under-17 level, so representative teams would start from under-16, where players would be first spotted and moved into a programme the following year.

The South Island under-16 and under-18 tournaments, which have been running for many years, would remain in place.

Rugby Southland chief executive Brian Hopley said research had shown representative teams were not keeping players in the game, so something had to be done.

NZR had done a lot of work on how to encourage young players to take part in the game and keep them in it.

He said even if Southland wanted to continue with junior teams they would have no-one to play against.

He expected a mixed reaction to the decision to can the junior sides and some people were quite passionate about the representative junior teams. But the world was changing and things had to be done to make the game suit a different society.

The Southland union was looking to work with Otago around development days for junior players.


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