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Alarming decline in secondary school rugby in New Zealand

Alarming decline in secondary school rugby in New Zealand
August 9, 2019

Rugby in New Zealand is facing an “alarming” fall in youth player numbers according to a new report commissioned by New Zealand Rugby.

With schoolboy rugby in New Zealand featuring rivalries between some schools that date back more than a century and with senior matches televised nationally, there are also concerns about elite schools poaching top talent

Peter Gall, who co-authored the independent report into secondary schools rugby released earlier this year, explained recently told FOX Sports “it’s part of the fabric of New Zealand society, rugby in all walks of life is, and certainly we’ve got strong traditions in our schools.”

However, while the report found that while the game was booming among schoolgirls, it discovered that boys were increasingly turning to sports such as basketball and football..

Gall advised “the numbers of boys playing the game at secondary school is trending downwards at an alarming rate, especially considering the overall secondary school roll has been steadily increasing.

“Decreasing numbers of players leads to fewer teams and problems in forming meaningful, viable competitions.”

Figures from School Sport NZ show the number of schoolboy rugby players declined from 25,841 in 2014 to 21,532 in 2018, a fall of 17%.

Over the same period, basketball’s popularity surged 41% from 13,130 to 18,498.

In Auckland, the number of secondary school rugby teams fell from 225 to 181 between 2013 and 2018, a trend Gall said was echoed nationwide.

The report pointed to a range of reasons for the decline, including the “fragmented and confusing” structure of schoolboy competitions, a lack of qualified coaches and concern over the physical nature of the game.

It also said the hyper-competitive nature of some competitions, with schools running rugby programmes akin to semi-professional academies, was “creating disquiet and questionable outcomes”.

The report’s release came shortly after controversy blew up in the Auckland 1A competition, when schools threatened to boycott St Kentigern College over its recruitment policies.

The row highlighted many of the concerns in Gall’s report, with the wealthy private school accused of using scholarships to lure top talent that delivered it five titles in seven years.

Napier Boys’ High Principal Matthew Bertram said at the time “they’re not building from the ground up, from year nine to 11. They’re going after the superstars and it’s brazen.”

St Kentigern eventually backed down and signed a code of conduct imposing conditions on player recruitment.

Gall said a major problem was infighting between schools, clubs and provincial unions over control of schoolboy competitions.

He said without good governance it was difficult to adopt policies to make the game more inclusive, encourage participation and place emphasis on values, rather than just winning.

Gall added “it can’t be done on an ad hoc basis, there needs to be more planning and strategic thinking about how to grow the game.

“There needs to be a lot more co-operation... and less self-interest.

“There’s some provinces where the clubs are at war with each other and at war with the school and the schools are at war with the clubs and the provincial union. That can’t go on.”

In response to the report, New Zealand Rugby has appointed a secondary schools manager and is formulating a new structure to oversee how the game is run.

Gall said one benefit of maintaining a healthy schoolboy rugby scene was the conveyor belt of talent for the All Blacks and other New Zealand teams.

He concluded “rugby’s still a big sport and has a large following, it’s not like it’s going to fall over.

“It will always be there at schoolboy level but, saying that, by building up the base of the pyramid with greater participation rates you’re creating more opportunities for the cream to rise to the top.”

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7th June 2019 - Steve Tew to leave New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive role

23rd April 2019 - New Zealand Rugby advises of significant profit downturn through 2018 financial year

16th November 2018 - New Zealand secures 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup hosting

19th March 2018 - Study shows New Zealanders appreciate the Value of Sport

30th July 2017 - New Zealand to drug test high school rugby teams

13th April 2017 - Finalists selected for New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards

6th December 2015 - New Zealand Rugby reports growth in participation among girls and women

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10th December 2014 - Study suggests All Blacks likely to keep on winning

14th March 2013 - Sport participation grows in New Zealand schools

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