New Zealand Rugby is future-proofing the sport with several changes to its school and club rugby structures in 2020.
A new club rugby and secondary school initiative known as ‘Game On’ will be introduced next year, as well as a focus on non-contact RipRugby and 10-a-side rugby, which will be implemented for Under 11s.
Game On is designed to reduce the number of default matches due to lack of flexibility for player numbers. Provincial Unions will be implementing Game On into nominated grades.
The new initiative will introduce rolling substitutions to matches and allows teams to modify team size, game length and scrum contests.
The changes will ensure more matches kick off, introduce new ways to play and improve the quality of experience for players.
NZR Head of Participation and Development Steve Lancaster said the key motivator for change is to put participants at the centre of the sport.
‘Rugby has been our national sport for over 125 years, our player numbers remain strong and as a country we continue to produce world-class rugby teams and athletes,’ Lancaster said.
‘But our players, coaches and referees are increasingly telling us they want rugby to meet their needs, not the other way around. We’re committed to improving the experience for everyone involved.
‘Our developments will help us future-proof rugby and remain relevant for the next 125 years.’
Lancaster added that Game On will ensure more matches can be played and completed.
‘People love playing, but they have busy lives and it can be hard to commit to turning up every Saturday for 16 weeks.
‘There are so many more options competing for their time so we need to make sure rugby remains attractive and accessible in the context of people’s busy, modern lives.”
Under 11 grade Small Blacks rugby will change from 15-a-side on a full-field, to 10-a-side on a half field.
Lancaster said the shifts at the Small Blacks level reflect best-practice for the development of young rugby players.
‘Small Blacks want to learn how to be better, play with their mates and have fun. That’s what sport is about at that age.
‘We know small-sided games allow kids to have more touches of the ball giving them the best opportunity to improve.’
Non-contact RipRugby will be offered to older age groups and introduced as a format at rugby clubs and schools because teenagers and adults were asking for more new ways to play.
‘Non-contact and shortened versions like sevens are growing in popularity, especially with teenagers. Provincial unions are seeing real success already with RipRugby which enables kids to enjoy the game without the usual committment, nor risk of injury. Kids are loving it and staying in the sport.’
Provincial Unions are set to introduce the new developments into school and club rugby from 1 January 2020.