Numbers in Otago schools steady

Otago school playing numbers are staying relatively steady as the emphasis continues to be on flexibility and getting players to play as much as possible.

New Zealand Rugby released a review into secondary school rugby in the country earlier this week which highlighted the need to keep players in the game and for NZR to be the governing body. It also highlighted poaching and too much emphasis on high performance.

The report said there was an alarming trend of players dropping out of game. Auckland lost lost 20% of its teams in the six-year period from 2013 to 2018.

Otago Secondary Schools Rugby Council chairman Greg Heller said team numbers in Otago had been relatively steady over the past few years and numbers were solid in the senior years. Some smaller schools and co-educational schools were looking to field combined sides and the council encouraged that as it was about getting pupils out on the field.

There was an distinction between those players who played to have a kick around with their mates and those who were more ambitious and wanted to perform at their best.

The council had pushed to have even teams in the under-14 grade last year and not have mismatches but it could not get buy-in from Dunedin boys' schools.

Top under-14 teams played in an under-15 grade.

He said the under-14 and under-15 grade did not have proper competitions and played a series of games at their level. Flexibility was needed to move teams up and down this grade.

There were proper competitions at the top level at first XV and under-18 and colts level.

New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby Union chairman Garry Chronican, of Dunedin, said the review was timely and the secondary schools union had consulted on the review.

He said no one group was doing anything wrong and secondary school rugby was very complex. But it was probably right that NZR should become the governing body.

It was more of a society issue involving why pupils were giving up and there was no easy answer to get them back playing the game.

''But there are still a lot of boys and girls out there who want to play the game for enjoyment and do enjoy playing the game,'' he said.

The game was becoming more accessible through other forms, such as touch and sevens.

He said the council had been quite successful in curbing poaching. The rules concerning limiting new-to-school pupils had been reduced last year and the union was looking at further reducing it this year.

He said flexibility was vital for the school grade. Any changes had to recognise the huge involvement of volunteers.

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