Rugby Southland killing competition

22:40, Feb 19 2012

Forget Waituna Lagoon, Southland premier club rugby is at tipping point and if it does slip completely into a toxic wasteland it will be the Stags who suffer.

A quiet little stoush has been brewing in recent weeks over Midlands' refusal to play a team in the premier B competition this year.

On the face of things it sounds like a small matter barely worth a mention outside of the minutes of the union's advisory committee.

However, this little ripple has developed into deeper waves washing over clubland.

Eager to get their way and ensure they didn't lose players to neighbouring lower division clubs, there has been a threat that Midlands may withdraw its senior team from the premier competition.

Having a Winton-based team competing for the Galbraith Shield has been a much-needed breath of fresh air for club rugby's top prize and losing it would be a disaster.

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History suggests the Eastern/Northern Barbarians concept will be lucky to last beyond its debut season.

If the worst was to happen and both clubs dropped out of premier, the Galbraith Shield would become a five-team competition.

That would be simply untenable. It would hold little interest for the players and it would be a poor nursery ground for representative players.

It would be Oamaru and we would be North Otago.

Rugby Southland plans to undergo yet another club review this season, with a view to changes in 2013.

What the unions must find is a way to retain the clubs currently in premier and bring in another club to get the minimum number of starters up to eight.

I agree club rugby should be for the players. The competitions should reflect the type of rugby the people want to play – be it social or serious.

But if the Stags are to be competitive in the top flight, there has to be a vibrant competition for them to select players from.

Unfortunately, Rugby Southland is playing a major part in killing the premier competition.

By passing the costs from player contracts on to the clubs – accommodation, cars, expenses etc – the clubs are being forced to become businesses in their own right.

Club funds that should be going into making sure the clubrooms are maintained and that junior teams have enough jersies to go around are going into the pockets of greedy, mercenary wannabes that often have little understanding of what it means to be a true professional.

The clubs should band together and agree they will no longer "pay for play" but unfortunately, the level of trust required for this to happen is non-existent.

That makes it Rugby Southland's responsibility.

Some club rugby players are being offered exorbitant sums to turn out for clubs. How a player can go through $8000 of "petrol vouchers" in a season is beyond me. I would suggest they need to change their (club-provided) car.

Clubs should be allowed to organise jobs, maybe provide a bit of petrol money where necessary, but that's it.

Amateur clubs paying players is ridiculous, unsustainable and the beginning of the end for Southland as a serious rugby entity.

But don't expect anything to change.