NZR wants to control schools rugby but principals are pushing back

Published date01 October 2022
Publication titleWhanganui Chronicle
Now, having taken possession of the first of two $100 million payments from US investment firm Silver Lake, the national body is finally making its move to take control of school’s rugby

NZR has already met the nation’s leading rugby schools and outlined a vision where it becomes the sole governing body for the secondary school system — responsible for managing and delivering the sport nationwide.

On the face of it, the rationale driving NZR’s move is supported by a convincing argument.

NZR believes rugby is being gripped by an existential crisis of declining participation among teenage boys.

And it says that in its current administrative form, it is powerless to arrest declining numbers, which has seen registered secondary school male players fall 10 per cent from 25,838 in 2009 to 23,4013 in 2021.

What those numbers don’t reveal is the extent of the drop-out between the ages of 10 and 18.

The game is extraordinarily good at attracting young players, just not keeping them and figures compiled in 2018, showed that while there were close to 10,000 registered 10-year-olds that year, there were only 3,000 18-year-olds, suggesting that typically, only a third of male players who play rugby in their first year of secondary school, will still be playing in their last.

The impact of losing so many teens is being felt at club rugby, where there were 38,803 registered male players in 2009 and only 33,196 in 2021.

An extensive research project into secondary schools’ rugby between 2018 and 2020 commissioned by NZR, concluded that the issue of falling participation would be best tackled by simplifying the governance structure of the sport at that level and handing control to one body.

The report recommended that: “NZR is the governance body for secondary school rugby and establishes an advisory group that develops the overall vision, values and strategy for secondary school rugby in New Zealand.”

Like other major reports completed at that time, it was left in limbo due to the outbreak of Covid, but now that the pandemic is rescinding,

NZR is pushing to implement the key findings of that review and make itself the controlling authority of schools’ rugby.

“We are at a point now where we are getting back to some planned activity,” says NZR general manager of community rugby Steve Lancaster.

“That report called out a whole raft of things that can be addressed to improve the health of the game at secondary school level.

“But effectively, it also said, unless you can sort...

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