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Merit or geography? NZR seek input from fans on future of provincial competition

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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For the second time in the space of a year, New Zealand Rugby have sought input from fans concerning the future of the game.

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Greater access to sports around the world has put pressure on NZR to produce a better quality product for rugby fans. That, coupled with the financial hit taken due to the global coronavirus pandemic, has seen the New Zealand union take a very modern-day approach to planning the sport’s future.

Last year, members of the All Blacks online fan club were surveyed on what they wanted to see from Super Rugby’s impending replacement. Now, the eye has turned to the NPC.

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Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos, NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon and Stan Sport commentator Allana Ferguson have spoken at the Super Rugby AU launch event held at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

NZ’s National Provincial Competition (which, for sponsorship reasons, was dubbed the Mitre 10 Cup from 2016 until 2020) has gone through a number of changes throughout the competition’s history.

When the NPC was formed in 1976, the New Zealand’s 26 rugby unions were placed into two divisions. The top 11 sides, placed in division one, played for the NPC title while the remaining teams were split into a North Island and a South Island group and attempted to fight their way into the first division.

In 1985, the Island split was removed and a third division was instead introduced. Seven years later, the top division was reduced to 9 teams, allowing three divisions of equal sizes, and finals were introduced.

The next major change didn’t come until 2006, when the competition was revamped completely. The top 14 provinces in New Zealand were ring-fenced from the ‘Heartland’ teams and a number of different formats were tried until the current one was settled on in 2011.

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Under the set-up used for the past decade, the teams in the first division teams are split into a Premiership and a Championship. Every teams plays the others within their conference, as well as four teams from the other conference.

Since early last year, there have been suggestions that from 2021, a new format could be adopted which sees the provinces split up by their location instead of their standing.

Confirmation of the new format was expected to given in December but NZR had evidently not finalised their plans.

In the survey sent out this week, fans were asked whether they would prefer the newly proposed format to the one that’s been used for the last 10 years.

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The proposal would see Northland, North Harbour, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki (i.e. the Blues and Chiefs feeder unions) play in a Northern division, while Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury, Otago and Southland (i.e. the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders feeder unions) form a Southern division.

As with the current set-up, each team would play all their fellow conference members as well as four teams from the other division. A video explaining the format also implied that each province would have a set ‘rival’ from their opposite division which they would play every year, with Canterbury given as the example for Auckland.

The newly proposed format would ensure that every team was always capable of taking out the competition whereas under the current system, the top seven teams are competing for the real prize while the bottom seven are fighting it out for promotion.

Hawke’s Bay were ineligible for the overall title last year but still posted wins against Premiership sides Wellington and Canterbury. Under the proposed system, they would have been able to compete for the overall crown.

This year’s NPC will likely kick off in mid-August, regardless of format. If the status quo is retained, Hawke’s Bay will take North Harbour’s place in the Premiership.

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Merit or geography? NZR seek input from fans on future of provincial competition

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