ORFU, clubs to combat player drain together

Richard Kinley.
Richard Kinley.
Otago premier clubs and the Otago Rugby Football Union are rallying together to combat an expected exodus of players as the sport becomes more global.

Until recently, player drain was something which was seriously talked about only at the top level.

It was an issue for the All Blacks, not the likes of Harbour, Zingari-Richmond or Southern.

But the rugby landscape has suddenly changed and the clubs are spooked. Up to a dozen players are expected to skip the club season to pursue other playing opportunities.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said the union was still grappling with the issue.

''We are working through a process on how we can best work together [with the clubs] to encourage our players to stay,'' he said.

''I don't think as many players are leaving as what people are alluding to but that is not a reason to put our head in the sand. We have to acknowledge that there is a challenge here.''

The union met the clubs on Tuesday night to discuss the issue among others.

The clubs were not happy about potentially sharing their finals day with a Ranfurly Shield challenge fixture between Otago and North Otago.

They also wanted the Otago-contracted players to be available at the business end of the tournament.

Both those issues have been resolved. The shield challenge will be staged on a different date and Otago players will be available for the semifinals and some of them for the final.

But there is a much bigger problem - players are leaving and they are leaving in numbers.

A good portion have found work in Singapore with the Ryan Martin-coached Asia Pacific Dragons, which will compete in the new Global Rapid Rugby tournament.

Martin has coached the Otago Boys' High School First XV since 2011 and was the Otago attack coach this season.

He is well connected in Dunedin and his new team is filling up with players with whom he is very familiar, although most of the contracting was done before he signed on.

Others are heading to the United States to play in a new competition over there.

The All Black Sevens have taken another three players out of the mix.

All three Otago halfbacks - Josh Renton, Melani Matavao and Kurt Hammer - are overseas or are thought to be heading overseas.

Otago loose forwards Joketani Koroi and Naulia Dawai and hooker Sekonaia Pole are understood to be joining Martin in Singapore.

Otago lock Josh Larsen has joined a side from Texas in Major League Rugby, and fellow second-rower Tom Rowe has signed a one-year deal with the Sunwolves.

The question with which everyone is wrestling is how do you keep players interested in playing club rugby when they can head overseas to play for money?

New Zealand Rugby has partly plugged the drain by adopting a policy not to pick players for the All Blacks if they play overseas.

But Kinley said NZR had taken a more flexible approach recently and he was not sure that policy would work at provincial level.

''I don't know what the rules or the policy will be because it is still early days.

''We've got to be careful that if we set something in concrete - and we will put some policies in place - that they need to be really robust and we don't keep changing them all the time.

''We need to really understand the situation and what the full risk is. The challenge for us is keeping our good players here. We have some ideas but it is something we are working through at the moment.''

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