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.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand