Are there some changes ahead for First XV rugby?
College Sport Media has obtained an email from Steve Lancaster, NZR’s head of participation and development, that outlines a tightening up of age and eligibility rules.
At the heart of the matter is that in NZR’s view, all open-age college competitions across the country
are classified as Under 19 competitions, mostly due to the fact that players who are already 18 as of
1 January are eligible to take part. While this is reasonable, other NZR rules then prevent Under 16
(or Year 10) players from playing in those same competitions.
To get around that, some unions and competition organisers have classified their competitions as
U18, with dispensations for players already 18 years old. However NZR’s directive would appear to
put an end to that.
The rationale for these rules are sensible. In an age where player safety is becoming an increasing
focus, addressing the physical and mental disparities that exist between developing and developed
bodies is at the forefront of that. Differences in size, like between props and locks, and half and
fullbacks, is an accepted part of the game but NZR’s view is that older players are better equipped to
deal with those rather than a situation of a 19-year-old prop versus a 15-year-old halfback.
While this is unlikely to have an effect in the major First XV competitions, an outright ban on players
who aren’t 16 when the school year starts could have dire consequences for the large number of
schools up and down the country that struggle to put out a First or Second XV each week.
When participation numbers are falling that could be a further death knell for the game in some areas.
Fortunately, with the college season almost underway, NZR have for this year decided to enforce an
interim solution requiring players already 18 to obtain a dispensation to play while they investigate
options for future years. But it seems likely that changes will be in place for 2020. Whether those are
enforcement of the current rules – e.g. Under 16s cannot play – or dispensations required for those
older than the norm for school will have to be seen.
CSM’s view is that all players should have five years of school eligibility, and those returning for a
sixth year (so-called year 14) should really be playing rugby at club level. That would take care of the issue in the main part, but whether its an option is over to NZR to consider.
Dreams of wearing the black jersey are a lot closer to becoming a reality for Wellington’s 18-year-old Dhys Faleafaga (St Mary's College, 2018), who has today been confirmed as a contracted member of the Black Ferns Sevens squad for the remainder of 2019.
Following in the footsteps of her older sister Lyric, who was in the team in 2017/18, Dhys joins the Black Ferns Sevens on the back of impressive outings for the national development team over the past two months.
Her inclusion bolsters the squad that is managing a number of injuries mid-way through their 2018/19 season.
Faleafaga said joining the Black Ferns Sevens has been a dream come true.
“I still find it a bit overwhelming; these are players that I have looked up to and now I am training alongside them.
“I didn’t realise how much there was to learn as a professional athlete. At the moment I just want to soak up everything and work towards making my debut,” said Faleafaga.
Faleafaga was one of 28 players who were the first to ever earn Black Ferns contracts, while still at school. Although still uncapped for the Black Ferns 15s team, her impressive history included taking St Mary’s College to a first ever national 1st XV title, and debuting for the Wellington Pride in the Farah Palmer Cup.
High Performance Sevens Manager Tony Philp said being able to bring in a player with Dhys’ potential was a great opportunity to create further depth in the programme.
“Dhys has been identified as having a big future in the game and has been involved in both the Black Ferns and Black Ferns Sevens environments.
“Bringing her in fulltime into the Black Ferns Sevens squad will expose her to the professional side of the game and give her access to the best coaching and conditioning as she develops her game.”
Faleafaga’s elevation is the latest in a number of players who have graduated from the development programme to the full Black Ferns Sevens squad.
“We can’t stress enough how important our development programmes are in identifying and nurturing talent. Dhys is the perfect example of a player that has stepped up from provincial sevens into the development programme and showed she has the ability to take that next step.
“It’s also another example of how the Black Ferns and Black Ferns Sevens programmes can work together as we develop our players across both formats,” said Philp.
Faleafaga joins the 20 fully contracted Black Ferns Sevens players that are based in Mt Maunganui. She is one of four players in the squad that finished school in 2018.
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