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The Otago premier schools structure has been tweaked for next year and the new format should result in a more even competition.
Last season the weaker co-educational schools really struggled to foot it with the likes of Otago Boys’ and Southland Boys’.
All 12 teams played each other during the first round before splitting into a top four, middle four and bottom four.
But the Otago Secondary Schools Rugby Council and the Otago Rugby Football Union have confirmed that will change next year.
The competition, which gets under way in early May, will start with a top six (premiership) and a bottom six (championship).
The grades will be based on the 2019 rankings. At the conclusion of the first round-robin, the teams ranked fifth to sixth are relegated to the championship and teams ranked seven to eighth are promoted to the premiership for a second round-robin.
The teams will then split into three groups of four (top, middle and bottom) to compete for the respective trophies.
The ODT Cup will remain the pinnacle.
OSSRC chairman Greg Heller said the changes were made following a season review.
‘‘We were given a strong mandate from our schools to progress forward,’’ he said.
‘‘This new format gives every team in the competition a chance to win the ODT Cup from the outset of the season, as well as placing importance on starting well from the outset of the competition.
‘‘It is great to welcome back Wakatipu 1st XV, Combined Co-Ed 1st XV and Southland Boys’ High School 1st XV, who all added value to the competition in 2019.
‘‘Southland Boys’ High School clearly added another dimension to the competition and it was pleasing for players of the same age to play against their peers.
‘‘Wakatipu also improved immensely as the season progressed. The Combined Co-Ed team was more than competitive, which is important as this team gives our co-ed based players access to 1st XV-level rugby.’’
ORFU general manager Richard Kinley said Central Otago was a rapidly growing area ‘‘so it is important for us to promote 1st XV-level rugby to players in that area’’.
‘‘Having Mt Aspiring and Dunstan in the premiership grade, and welcoming back Wakatipu 1st XV for a second season, reflects the growth and success evident in the Central region.
‘‘It was also pleasing to have four players achieve national honours in the New Zealand Schools-Barbarians programme in 2019, which is a reflection on the quality of rugby these young men were exposed to during the local Otago schools competition.’’
The Otago premier schools finals will be held on the weekend beginning August 8.
A draft version of the competition draw is expected in the next few weeks.
Otago Boys’ High School defeated King’s High School 34-17 in the final last season.
The competition format which determines the lower South Island qualifier for the national top-four final will be confirmed in the new year. It will be a separate competition to the Otago premier schools tournament.