The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) Board has decided to maintain the current 14-team premier competition and 12-team Heartland Championship in the same formats as the 2009 season for 2010.
After threatening to cull four sides – Tasman, Northland, Manawatu and Counties – for the last six months, the status quo has been retained.
The NZRU has accepted the need to give provincial unions, players, sponsors and fans some certainty as to their playing future next year.
The fact that several Provincial Unions had lodged appeals and threatened other legal action which had the potential to delay the confirmation of competition formats for 2010 was also a factor in the Board’s deliberations.
NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs said the Board and Management agreed that despite the significant amount of progress that had been made to identify and develop the 10-6-10 competition, the current collective employment negotiations taking place and other factors meant the proposed competition could not go ahead in 2010.
“A number of factors have changed since the Board made its decisions in June and July, Hobbs said.
“These include the fact that competition formats have become a fundamental part of the collective employment negotiations currently underway, the fact that we have appeals lodged by the Tasman and Counties-Manukau Rugby Unions and threatened legal action from other Unions.
“All of these matters were not likely to be resolved prior to the first quarter of 2010, and with outcomes uncertain and the need to create certainty for Provincial Unions and teams, it was not possible to go ahead with the new format in 2010.”
A number of Provincial Unions had also made submissions to the NZRU which, in some cases, indicated a change in their position on the proposed changes or at least the timing of those changes, he said.
The Board’s previous decision on the format of the domestic competitions in 2011 and 2012 remains as a 10-6-10 format at this time. This will be subject to continued negotiations with the NZRPA and the NZRU will be seeking to secure an affordable and sustainable player payment model and salary cap as key outcomes of collective bargaining. The format will also be discussed further with Provincial Unions.
In announcing the decision, Mr Hobbs and NZRU CEO Steve Tew noted that the initial impetus for changes to domestic competitions came from the nine non-Franchise Host Provincial Unions which collectively requested urgent intervention from the NZRU in April.
Mr Tew said the NZRU was focused on finalising a new collective employment agreement with the NZRPA, which will be critical to determining the costs for Provincial Unions and competitions in the next three years.
“Like all those involved in rugby, we have been greatly encouraged by the public’s reaction to the Air New Zealand Cup in 2009, he said.
“The strong growth in television audiences and the visibility of the competition were hugely positive.
“Together with our Provincial Unions we now need to figure out how we can harness that interest and support in 2010 and beyond to sustain those teams and these vital competitions over the longer term.”
A meeting of all 14 Premier Division Provincial Unions CEOs and the CEOs of Wanganui and Mid-Canterbury was held in Wellington on Friday to further discuss these issues.