Say for fans on national competition

Richard Kinley
Richard Kinley
A survey to gauge the preferred shape of the national provincial championship is going to give fans a say in the competition.

A proposal to change the 14-team competition to have teams split into two pools on regional lines was floated last year.

A northern pool would comprise the teams from the Blues and Chiefs regions — Northland, North Harbour, Auckland, Counties-Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, while the southern pool would consist of the teams from the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders areas.

Teams in each pool would play each other and then play four teams from the other pool in crossover games. So there would still be 10 games played by all sides, followed by playoffs.

Teams would play a traditional rival from the other pool each year and then three other teams. The three teams they did not play one year they will play the next year.

The survey has just gone out to fans through the national union’s database.

The two options are to change to the new geographical pool structure or keep the status quo which involves the Premiership and Championship division structure.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said the survey was a good way to gauge whether change was wanted.

Kinley said in his nine years with the union there had been much talk nationally about the format. The playing window was not long enough for a full round-robin. Playing midweek was no longer an option.

The best competition format was one in which anyone could win the competition and one that engaged fans and was run in a meaningful way.

With the new pool structure, every team would play each other inside two seasons. Previously some sides did not play each other for years as they were in different divisions and did not have crossover matches.

Hawkes Bay went on a tremendous run in the Championship last year , displaying the sort of form that could have beaten the top teams in the Premiership. But there was no way it could have won the top title.

Teams want to be the best and to do that they have to beat the best but that is not possible under the two division format.

The results of the survey will be presented to the New Zealand Rugby board later this month.

Kinley said as far as the Otago union was concerned it did not have a preference. The way the current model had played out, Otago had always played against the likes of Canterbury, Tasman and Southland.

Under the new model, Otago would play Auckland only every second year.

Cost was always a factor but that had to be judged against a meaningful competition which provided a pathway for players.

The national championship has gone through many changes since it first started in 1976. It has had the two-division structure since 2011.

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