Schools championship to have major expansion in 2024

The cases feature a range of sports, but it is understood that rugby players make up a...
Photo: ODT files
Bigger is better.

The successful Otago Schools Rugby Championship will grow by six teams next year and adopt a more suitable moniker.

Otago Secondary School Rugby Council chairman Greg Heller told the Otago Daily Times the participating schools were unanimous in their support for the expansion, which will include much greater representation from Southland.

Three of the six new teams are from the deep south.

National champions Southland Boys’ were the soul Southland representative last season. But they will enter a 2nd XV this season, while Central Southland College and a combined Maruawai College and Menzies College team will enter the competition for the first time as well.

King’s High School and John McGlashan College will also enter a 2nd XV, and Cromwell College also enter the fray, lifting the number of participating teams from 12 to 18.

Heller said the expansion was "something that has been bubbling away" in the background for years.

"We did propose it three years ago but it didn’t have the support of the schools," he said.

But both King’s and McGlashan were keen to field a 2nd XV and Southland wanted greater representation, so the mood had changed.

It is a chunky increase that will involve more travel, which Heller acknowledged was a concern for some schools.

"Some schools were a little worried about the travel. But, at the end of the day, even without those additional teams, there was still going to be significant travel.

"We are working to hopefully secure a sponsor ... and we hope to be able to subsidise, through grants and that, some of the travel."

The other potentially curly issue for some teams is the competition will be staged on King’s Birthday weekend and Matariki weekend.

"We proposed a small range of competition structures and we landed on [this one], and the caveat with that was we would play on [those weekends].

"But the vast majority supported the format that we have landed on."

To better reflect the schools which are participating, the competition will undergo a name change and will be known as the Southern Schools Rugby Championship.

Despite the expansion, the structure of the tournament has basically remained intact.

The six expansion teams will join division two, which will now be split into two pools — the blue pool and the maroon pool. Division 1 just has one pool.

During round 1, each pool will play a five-game round-robin beginning on May 11.

The winners of the blue and maroon pool will play a final, with the winner automatically moving up to division 1. The bottom placed division 1 team will be relegated to division 2.

In round 2, the three pools will play another five-game round-robin. The points from round 2 will be used to determine the playoff positions.

Teams ranked from 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16 will play semifinals, while the 17th and 18th placed teams will playoff to determine the ranking for the 2025 season.

Division finals will be held on August 17.