New youth grade to bridge gap between school and premiers
Southland club rugby will go back to the future next season in search of a sustainable model.
A rugby review committee has come up with the addition of a premier youth development grade as its only major recommendation for the 2013 season.
Just what grade props up premier rugby has been a bone of contention in Southland rugby, with the breakdown in that grade at the start of this season forcing the division two competition to make room in the bed for the second teams fielded by most of the teams in the premier grade.
The result was a behemoth 19-team second division, which was less than ideal.
There will be no age restriction on the "youth" grade initially, but it was hoped it would provide some pathway for players who would otherwise be lost to the game.
Rugby Southland general manager Brian Hopley said clubs had raised concerns about the players quitting the game after leaving high school.
Most premier clubs will be expected to field sides in the new grade but Hopley said an open mind would be kept on whether it would be a requirement.
There are hopes that an additional team will move up to the premier ranks next season to increase the number of sides to eight.
Bluff and Edendale were among the clubs who had signalled an intention to make the step up during the next couple of years, Hopley said.
The youth grade could be supplemented by combinations from rural areas. DLS/Midlands, Northern/Gore and Edendale/Southern were apparently investigating the possibility of forming teams to retain youth interest in their respective catchments.
"With so many demands on discretionary time, there's a realisation that more flexibility is needed to make committing to a club for the season an attractive option for prospective players," Hopley said.
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