Rugby: Otago will adapt to championship changes

Otago will be happy with whatever form the national provincial championships takes next year, as change once again appears to be coming to the competition.

Provincial administrators will meet in Wellington on Friday and though nothing has been set in concrete, various options have been put forward to the 14 unions.

Many unions wanted to get rid of midweek games, which they felt were not financially attractive and also impacted on players and their ability to recover from playing three games in eight days.

Many coaches said short breaks between games led to the focus switching to recovery, rather than actually developing players.

The ITM Cup was played in a condensed format this year. The competition, including semifinals and finals was played out over an eight-week window.

Otago played its first game on August 25 and the championship final against Counties-Manukau was played on October 26.

To get the 10 full rounds into the window, games were played during the week and each side played two midweek games during the season.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said there were various scenarios to consider.

If the midweek matches were eliminated, the competition might have to start a week earlier and go a week later.

Another alternative was to not play the semifinals and just have a straight final.

Kinley said there were swings and roundabouts in any decision which might be made.

Otago had one home midweek game this season, against North Harbour, and Kinley acknowledged the crowd which attended at Forsyth Barr Stadium - not much more than 3000 - was the smallest of the season.

But Kinley said when the side had two games in four days in the North Island - playing Hawkes Bay in Napier on Saturday and Manawatu in Palmerston North on Tuesday - the side could stay in school hostel accommodation and the union saved on costs.

''The players' attitudes and also that of the coaches was that as soon as you know the draw, then you plan towards that,'' Kinley said.

He had been in contact with coach Tony Brown, who is back in Japan, and assistant coach Phil Young, and they appeared happy with the current situation, and would adjust should there be changes.

Otago was lucky in some regards, as it did not suffer too many major injuries last season. Its midweek games were also played later in the season, so were not rushed on the union.

Other teams, such as Southland and Manawatu, ran into injury problems and found it hard to easily replace players.

Kinley said there had been hopes the draw for next season would come out before Christmas but that was now unlikely.

The New Zealand Rugby Players Association and the New Zealand Rugby Union were working through a new collective agreement and that would have to be signed off before any draw was finalised.

Otago would play the six other teams in the championship and also face Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Auckland and Waikato.


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