New U19 competition hailed by academy

20:55, Jan 21 2014

Rugby Southland Academy manager Peter Skelt has hailed the New Zealand Rugby Union for putting together a new national provincial under-19 competition to be played in Taupo from September 27 to October 4.

The competition will feature 16 teams, with each of the 14 top-tier provincial unions having a team.

The other two teams will be an extra Auckland side and a team made up of players in the Heartland unions.

The concept has been put into place to help with New Zealand under-20 selection and to also help with the drop-off in players when they leave school, which the NZRU has highlighted as a concerning area.

As well as a development tool for the players, the competition would also be used to help the progress of coaches, strength and conditioning trainers, and referees, with seminars held throughout the eight days in Taupo.

Skelt believed the concept was a good one for the development of everyone involved with rugby.

"I think it's massively exciting for rugby and for provincial unions. What I like about it is it's not just about the development of players but the development of all areas of rugby," Skelt said.

"New Zealand rugby really need to be congratulated for what they are doing, to be fair. It's innovative and it's about development."

The 16 teams will be split into four pools of four teams, who will play each other before the competition in Taupo.

Southland will be part of a South Island pool that will include Otago, Canterbury and Tasman.

The pool games will determine seedings, with the top teams from each pool playing each other in Taupo, the second-seeded teams playing each other and so on.

The new concept will spell the end of the under-18 age group, in which Southland were South Island champions last season.

Skelt conceded it could well be a struggle to put together a strong Southland under-19 team, given NZRU rules stipulate they will not be able to use any players who are still at school.

While Southland were the leading South Island under-18 team last year, five key players from that team will be heading elsewhere to study this year.

The player base for players who are under 19 in Southland is limited, Skelt admitted.

He said the academy would probably work with the NZRU to see whether it could receive some sort leniency to bolster its team, and he expected other smaller unions would also be asking.

That might include asking the NZRU whether some high school players or potentially a couple of players just over the under-19 age group could be included.

Skelt said the academy would also look at possibly utlising the "State of Origin"-type rule where unions could use players from their province who were living elsewhere.

Rugby Southland rugby development officer Matt Saunders said all the Southland age-group coaching positions would be advertised in the coming weeks and that would include the new under-19 role.

Last season's under-18 coach, Rodger Dawson, has indicated an interest in the under-19 role, Saunders said.