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Game on...Getting more kids into rugby is the goal for, from left, Tristam Johnston, new appointees Andy Colvill, Clint Austin and Hami Goldsmith, and women's development co-ordinator Caro Rhodes. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Getting kids into rugby from an early age is the aim of a new major initiative by the South Canterbury Rugby Football Union to boost the sport at the grassroots level.

The union has appointed three additional staff to develop the sport, one fulltime and two part-time.

“Last October the board met to discuss the challenges for rugby in our region and we had the review at national level,” union chief executive Craig Calder said.

“It was time and necessary for us to look at ourselves and the services we provided the rugby community and clubs.”

Although player numbers were increasing overall, there had been a noticeable drop in teenage boys playing the sport, he said, although this was right across all sports also.

An outside consultant was appointed to look at the union’s operations and structures and to interview clubs and other stakeholders.

“All the research shows is that what boys and teenagers want from rugby is fun, enjoyment, good coaching and the chance to improve themselves. It was not necessarily looking to be a future Crusader.”

Mr Calder said the consultant’s report recommended the union strengthen its reach, support clubs and extend rugby development support in the community.

The emphasis as a result has moved from young players going to the union for events and coaching to the union sending staff out to clubs and schools from the primary level upwards.

Funding has come from NZ Rugby for the fulltime position and from the union’s own resources.

“It’s a significant move,” Mr Calder.

“We haven’t put these resources to rugby development before. Other unions of similar size would not have the resources we’re putting in.

“I want primary school kids to get their hands on a rugby ball again and enjoy the game.

“We ran a whole series of World Cup inter-schools last year and the feedback was outstanding.

“We went into the schools and reached 500 to 600 children. It’s non-contact rugby at primary and is skills and drills.”

Mr Calder said more than 80 people applied for the new positions, some from overseas.

“But we wanted to engage some locals who had local knowledge. Our catchment area is significant, with Waimate, Mackenzie and Geraldine, unlike a lot of other unions.”

The new appointees are: Clint Austin (31), rugby operations manager, formerly of Timaru, just finished three years with Otago Rugby as operations manager, worked several years in Melbourne with Tennis Australia.

Hami Goldsmith (35), rugby development co-ordinator, former TBHS First XV captain, played for Celtic and coached Temuka, returned from Alice Springs, Australia, where he has been coaching.

Andy Colvill (26), rugby development co-ordinator, from Geraldine, graduated with a bachelor of physed degree from Otago University, has been coaching in Geraldine for more than two years.

Former rugby development officer Tristam Johnston, now in his ninth season working for the union, has been appointed to a new position as community rugby manager.

Caro Rhodes continues as women’s rugby development co-ordinator and Phil Lill is in charge of referee development.