New Zealand Rugby’s Heartland Championship has reportedly been axed for the 2020 season, according to a report from 1 News.

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The amateur competition acts as the second-tier provincial tournament behind the semi-professional Mitre 10 Cup, but won’t be in action this year due to the imminent financial crisis NZR faces as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

According to 1 News, the 12 Heartland Championship sides – Thames Valley, King Country, East Coast, Poverty Bay, Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti, Wairarapa Bush, Buller, West Coast, Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury and North Otago – sought the move to ease financial pressure on NZR.

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The organisation is already struggling with the significant loss of revenue that has come with the suspension of this year’s Super Rugby in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

That led to reports on Friday that NZR could lose up to $130 million in budgeted revenues this season, which is a similar predicament that both Rugby Australia and England’s Rugby Football Union are currently dealing with.

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The drastic move means it will be the first time since 1946 that a New Zealand domestic season will not feature every province, while the last time a provincial campaign was called off was in 1916.

It’s a significant blow to New Zealand’s grassroots rugby, as the Heartland Championship embodies the amateur aspect of the game while allowing players from outside of the nation’s main centres to represent their regions at first-class level.

Some have even used the competition as a pathway to greater honours, with the likes of former All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo and Blues first-five Stephen Perofeta shining at that level before going on to play professionally.

The dissolution of the 2020 season adds to a stressful period for NZR, which is enduring a growing rift between the private licensees of Super Rugby franchises and its top-tier Mitre 10 Cup provinces.

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