Compelling reasons for change at secondary school level

A new report into rugby at secondary school level has found a disjointed structure and an alarming drop in boys playing the game.

New Zealand Rugby released its review into secondary school rugby in New Zealand yesterday and the most sobering statistic can be found in the first few pages.

The report said that in Auckland from 2013 to 2018 the number of teams playing the game at secondary school level went from 225 to 181 - a drop of 44 teams, or nearly 20%.

The report concluded changes can be made to improve the game but it would be challenging as people had to look at the big picture and forget about results.

NZR commissioned the review in the middle of last year and had canvassed far and wide about the issues facing the game.

The report was commissioned before the issue surfaced around St Kentigern College in Auckland poaching players.

The 26-page report said there were compelling reasons for change in the organisation, administration and delivery of secondary school rugby.

''The current governance infrastructure of secondary school rugby is fragmented and confusing. There is a need to develop a governance structure to provide leadership in strategic direction,'' the report said.

''The numbers of boys playing the game at secondary school is trending downwards at an alarming rate, especially considering that the overall secondary school roll has been steadily increasing in recent years. Decreasing numbers of players leads to fewer teams and problems in forming meaningful, viable competitions.''

The viability of high-performance school rugby programmes were also questioned.

''A relatively small number of schools are recognised as having very strong rugby programmes that promote high performance. The impact of these programmes is, however creating, disquiet and questionable outcomes.''

The review did not consider clubs taking over teenage rugby.

The report said one of the overwhelming messages from those who had been consulted was the need for an overarching governance body, setting clear strategies and effective policies for the sport.

The report recommended NZR provide governance and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby Council will advise NZR.

NZR should appoint a fulltime manager of secondary school rugby and that person would lead secondary school rugby in New Zealand.

As for the playing of the game, NZR needed to establish a clear definition of which grades are considered performance grades.

All other grades should be recognised as existing primarily to maximise the appeal and benefit to participants.

Growing participation in boys rugby needed to be a component of a NZR secondary schools rugby strategy. A collaborative approach involving schools, provincial unions, stakeholders and clubs was required.

Girls rugby was seen as being under-resourced, with a lack of coaches and most schools having only one team. Younger pupils had to play against older pupils and many gave up.

First XV rugby was seen as playing a significant part in the wider rugby landscape.

But there were concerns about bringing in players from other schools and countries, the amount of time devoted to rugby and the balance between having a few high-performing teams against having a wider spread of talent and more even competitions.

''The perceptions that players are being over-trained, have a sense of entitlement and are denied other sporting opportunities are widely expressed.''

It was suggested NZR develop guidelines for high performance teams in secondary schools. This may include the optimal number of training sessions per week, a consideration of the demands placed on players and the promotion of multi-sport pathways.

As change was made the development of players and the game had to have priority over results and emphasis put on enjoyment and fun.

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