Non-contact initiative aimed to halt decline in boys playing

Richard Kinley
Richard Kinley
Is tackling going the way of the dinosaurs? Maybe it is.

In an increasingly risk-adverse community you have to wonder whether contact sport still has a place in society.

New Zealand Rugby is certainly grappling with the issue.

It has welcomed an initiative which involved a non-contact grade for boys kick off in Auckland's North Shore last evening.

It is quick rip rugby, which has been around for a while. But the North Harbour Rugby programme is the first of its kind in the country in the sense it is being pitched at boys as an alternative to rugby and played at club level.

It was designed to address the decline in the number of boys playing rugby in the region.

Now before you dismiss the programme as just the product of a bunch of wimpy Aucklanders, it could be coming to a rugby paddock near you very soon.

And also some of the world's leading experts on concussion are warning against children playing contact sport before the age of 12.

Time appears to be running out for tackling - certainly in children's grades at least.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said the North Harbour initiative was part of a national participation plan and wider Auckland strategy.

"The process and how this has been developed will be presented at the next Amateur Rugby Managers conference with NZR looking to roll [it] out nationally in 2020.

"Otago has and is already running taster sessions in quick rip and other formats of the game.

"Due to the pilot partnership with NZR, North Harbour were in a position to commence taster sessions a bit earlier than most.

"Otago will, in partnership with our clubs and schools, look at alternative formats of the game to engage young people based on what we learn through the NZR trials."

That will be hard to stomach for some hard-core rugby fans. And the question remains, if there is no tackling is it still rugby? Administrators are going to have to find the right balance between modifying the game to meet changing needs and maintaining the game's traditions.

Tackling is to rugby what baking powder is to cooking. Everything falls flat without it, right?

But if it is not what people want then you adapt or perish. That seems to be the message coming through in dispatches.

North Harbour Rugby head of rugby engagement and participation Bill Wigglesworth said the new grade was about providing opportunities to boys who were new to rugby or not keen to continue playing tackle rugby.

"We've made quite a few changes this season to make sure we're providing quality experiences to young kids," Wigglesworth said.

"We're focusing on creating rugby environments that are all about a climate of development, fun and put young people at the centre of their rugby experience.

"There's a growing demand to provide junior boys with different ways to play the game and it's been really well received by our community.

"We're expanding our non-contact versions of rugby ... and they're fast and exciting to play.

"Lots of boys decide to play rugby later on and we want to give them an opportunity to be involved without putting them into a tackle team straight away."

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