SHARE
Rep rugby . . The South Canterbury union is still hoping for representative matches against Mid Canterbury (above) and North Otago this season. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

by Chris Tobin

The South Canterbury Rugby Union wants to get on with its job of fostering the game in the region now that the Covid-19 alert has gone down to Level 2.

Union chief executive Craig Calder said it had been a gut-wrenching experience having the season blown apart by the crisis.

“We were all geared up to have a bumper season, supporting clubs and making an impact with rugby development in our region.

“It was all in place and then it was taken from us.”

This season the union appointed three extra staff to develop the sport at the grassroots level, one fulltime and two part-time.

They remained employed, working from home. All eight of the union’s staff were being supported by the Government’s wage subsidy.

“From a local point of view now we’re budgeting a 40% drop in revenue and if we can get a club season running we don’t foresee any major losses.”

New Zealand Rugby has reduced the union’s funding by 15% and each staff member was working for 15% less than their usual income.

However, the South Canterbury union has come through relatively unscathed although rugby jobs have been cut elsewhere.

It has also jolted the national union into looking at its whole approach to professional rugby and the urgent need not to forget about clubs and provincial unions.

“It has been hugely challenging for rugby to lose good people from the organisation. It’s a major re-alignment and we’re also in the middle of a review.

“It’s given us an opportunity to really look at ourselves and to start again.

“The Heartland unions have got together two times a week; we’re pushing our case.”

Realignment .. South Canterbury Rugby Union chief executive Craig Calder says Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for rugby to reassess where it goes in the future. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

Calder said the union was in contact with clubs and the best-case scenario they were hoping for was a start to club rugby by June 20.

“We will need four weeks prior to this for clubs to get fitness levels up and grounds prepared.

“Junior rugby and schools rugby will not be until term 3. There will be one round with semis and finals. That will push us out to September.”

Calder said a fundraising effort was being planned to assist players and families pay for gear and subscriptions.

The union has also been working collaboratively via Zoom with other sports codes in South Canterbury cricket, basketball and others Sport Canterbury as to a return to possible playing dates.

With this year’s Heartland competition scrapped he said the union was discussing with the Mid Canterbury and North Otago unions the possibility of a small Hanan Shield competition to ensure a representative season could be held.

While Covid-19 had been greatly challenging, Calder said there could be benefits with a realignment at the higher level. However, the South Canterbury union’s focus was on the grassroots and children’s rugby.

“A lot of kids are jumping out of their skins to get out there.”

Community games to return with changes

Plans to prepare for the return of community rugby are now in earnest under Covid-19 Alert Level 2, following guidance about organised sport from Sport New Zealand last Thursday.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said robust plans could be made for how rugby could be played across New Zealand.

NZ Rugby is developing Covid-19 training resources for clubs, volunteers and schools to help them prepare for a return to play.

Investec Super Rugby would return under Level 2 involving New Zealand’s five teams the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders.

The five teams would play each other at home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches every weekend. All matches would be played in closed stadiums.

A decision on the All Blacks Steinlager Series in July against Wales and Scotland was to be made soon.