Money matters top of agenda

Concerns about financial sustainability will be the favoured topic among Mid-Canterbury's stakeholders before a decision is made whether to join division one next year.

Having met on Wednesday night, the Mid-Canterbury Rugby Football Union board will next week consult with its stakeholders – the clubs, players and sponsors – and then determine if it should make the leap from the amateur Heartland competition to the professional division one format.

It plans to notify the New Zealand Rugby Union by November 27. If Mid-Canterbury does not accept the invite, the NZRU will be forced to scramble around for another union to fill the space.

The NZRU is offering about $1.3 million over two years to two Heartland unions – Mid-Canterbury and Wanganui – to join the four demoted Air New Zealand Cup teams in division one. But doubts remain as to whether that amount will be enough. There are fears the leap up could financially ruin the smaller unions.

Mid-Canterbury chief executive Ian Patterson said the feeling among the board members was "fairly positive".

"But there are still concerns over the financial sustainability issues. Nothing has changed to be honest – that is the one area that can potentially come back and bite us."

While the views of the stakeholders will be heeded, it will fall to the board to decide Mid-Canterbury's fate.

"Ultimately, it's going to be a board decision, but certainly the views of our wider membership are important in that."

Patterson maintained a positive outlook would be presented to the stakeholders, noting the promotion has the potential for significant benefits.

However, they will also be aware of the pitfalls and a number of issues needed to be resolved before the NZRU got this bold plan under way. Not least of its problems was whether it could demote four provinces from the top competition, with endangered unions such as Tasman and Northland not ruling out legal action.

But even if it accepted the NZRU's invitation, Mid-Canterbury would still have the option of withdrawing if the national body was unable to find common ground between the provinces, the players' union and the TV broadcaster.

A major concern for Mid-Canterbury was whether it would be competitive against provinces that had been contesting the Air New Zealand Cup.

Although the demoted provinces were expected to be stripped of many of their best players, they would still pack superior firepower.

"There is a feeling that over time the player depth can be improved at a local level and the quality of team that can be fielded will be much nearer the standard of the teams that currently might be Air New Zealand Cup teams," Patterson said.

"The first year will be very challenging but ultimately there will be a levelling out of the playing field over time."

Informal discussions have been held with Canterbury about that union providing players, while some Ellesmere players will be tempted to move south to join Mid-Canterbury clubs.

About six weeks ago a vote was held at a management committee meeting as to whether the Ellesmere sub-union should present a case to Canterbury about linking with Mid-Canterbury.

The proposal was defeated by one vote. It went no further.

The Press