NZR gives backing to Rapid Rugby

Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin
New Zealand Rugby has pledged its support to a competition taking players away from the grass-roots and bleeding clubs of players.

The New Zealand Herald reported over the weekend NZR had signed a memorandum of understanding with Rugby Australia to support the Rapid Rugby competition, the brainchild of Western Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

The competition, which is due to start in February, involves eight teams from the Asia-Pacific region.

The competition has to get players from somewhere and there is much concern about the drain on players and resources the new competition will have on the game in New Zealand.

The Asia Pacific Dragons will be based in Singapore and have already been actively recruiting players from Dunedin. The team is coached by former Otago Boys' High School First XV coach Ryan Martin while former Highlanders and Otago loose forward Hale T-Pole has been heavily involved in recruitment.

The Dragons have been a sporadic team over the years, playing in one or two festival matches a year but the establishment of the new competition means they need a more firm and solid footing.

In an email, obtained by the Herald, to all Super Rugby and provincial union chief executives, head of tournaments and competitions Cameron Good explains NZR has signed a memorandum of understanding with Rugby Australia to support Forrest's venture.

The NZR email also syndicates a Global Rapid Rugby proposal, with former Force captain Matt Hodgson listed as the point of contact, that could involve players, commercial and coaching resources being shared between respective, interested teams.

''We have received an approach from GRR asking whether there would be interest in New Zealand Super Rugby clubs or Mitre 10 Cup provincial unions forming partnerships with the new teams that are joining GRR,'' Good writes.

Global Rapid Rugby will be based out of and run by the Hong Kong Rugby Union. It has been rebranded after a series of trial matches involving Forrest's Force under the World Series Rugby banner this year and is scheduled to launch in February after gaining sanction from World Rugby.

Uncertainty over final details prevails two months out from kickoff but eight teams are due to contest the inaugural season: Fiji, Samoa, Japan's Panasonic, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Force, and a side backed by a private consortium from a country yet to be announced.

The competition appears scant on details and, a month out from pre-season games, little can be found about teams and players.

Rapid Rugby said the competition could attract players contracted to a Mitre 10 Cup team as it enabled them to play at a professional level for a longer period. Although that may be good for the player it is causing angst for clubs. Players have become thin on the ground in recent years.

Harbour has lost four players at least to the Singapore outfit while there is talk of more than a dozen players from Otago heading to the team.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley told the Otago Daily Times last week the union would work with clubs to try to get players to stay. But Otago - along with other unions - appears to be at odds with the national union.

In the email, the proposal to form partnerships with New Zealand teams states how recruitment would work. -

''A player contracted from Mitre Cup can be placed into a Global Rapid Rugby team for a short term or the full duration from March to June. This would allow players associated with Mitre Cup teams to get professional rugby for a longer duration.

''A player from Super Rugby can also benefit from Global Rapid Rugby. If a player is injured/returning from suspension and/or misses selection and requires game time, Global Rapid Rugby would welcome players from the aligned Super Rugby team.''

Having missed out yet again in its bid for a Super Rugby team due to financial constraints, Global Rugby represents a major boost for the Pacific Islands with up to 50 Pacific Island-based players set to gain short-term professional contracts.

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