Loss of rep players a concern

Most clubs support the changes brought into the premier club competition although there are concerns the finals may be weakened.

After considerable debate over the past couple of months, a meeting of metropolitan clubs with premier teams on Wednesday decided on the format for the coming season.

The season will begin on March 24 and have two full rounds with semfinals and finals.

The final will be played on August 4 but Otago-contracted players, who will number 24, will only be able to play until July 14 and will be pulled out after that, to train fully with Otago. The final day for all grades will be August 4.

Dunedin club president Lee Piper said the club’s bottom line was it wanted to have all teams playing on Saturday, have semifinals and a final and have all grades finishing at roughly the same time.

He said the new proposal basically met those requirements, although there was a concern over where clubs would draw players from in the crunch time of the season, when the Otago players are withdrawn from the competition.

"But as NZR [New Zealand Rugby] keeps pushing the the Mitre 10 shoulder closer and closer, then it just becomes too difficult to fit everything in," Piper said.

University chairman Paul Hessian said the club had always favoured a full competition which involved Otago representative players.

"The worry is whether you can take 24 players out of the competition and where do you replace them from? We are talking about a whole other team," Hessian said.

"We all know what the numbers are like now. That is our concern. What is going to be the standards of the semis and the final?"

Hessian said playing a couple of high-pressure games such as a semifinal and final may benefit the Otago players. But he understood why the players had to train with Otago.

He also questioned whether clubs could survive two full rounds.Taieri chairman Sam Graf said last season the club’s premier team was out of the running for the finals and then had a bye in the final round, so its season finished early.

Other teams in the club continued but Graf said once the premier team stopped playing supporters drifted away. The Taieri colts team made the final but it was played on a Thursday night, under lights, which was disappointing for the club.

The Taieri club wanted all grades to have finals on the same day, as it created a focus for teams and also play on Saturdays.

Zingari-Richmond chairman Stephen Baughan said the club supported the changes made to the premier competition.

"The current club rugby window is very narrow. If rugby clubs are going to remain financially sustainable then they need their premier side playing every Saturday so they can maximise food and beverage revenue," he said.

He said the premier season dates better align with junior rugby, which would be good for clubs.

Southern president Blair Crawford said he understood the need for a longer season — having the premier team and its supporter base in the club for longer builds club culture.

"However, to take your rep players out of a competition just when the playoffs start is not ideal for the competition. It will affect some clubs a lot more than others," he said.

"If we took our five or six rep players out of the finals last year, I doubt we would have won, but we had proven we were the best team leading into the finals.

"Now our premier team will have to pull players from another team late in the season. For us it could be colts, which will have an impact on that team, who could also be in finals contention. How will coaches, players and club supporters feel about that?"

He said New Zealand Rugby should have a protected club window until the end of July.

"NZR really needs to take some leadership and listen to the clubs’ concerns instead of allowing the professional game to continue to reduce our window."

Harbour chairman Martin Paris said his club was not happy with the outcome but declined further comment.

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