Small unions upset by 2012 provincial schedule

DAVID LONG
Last updated 10:12 15/04/2012
Stags Otago
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
NO CROWD: Southland's biggest game of the season against Otago has been scheduled for a Thursday rather than a weekend when they could get a bigger crowd.

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The draw for this year's national provincial championship has left several provinces highly frustrated and there have been claims that the NZRU has given special treatment to the bigger provinces, to the detriment of the smaller unions.

The draw came out a couple of weeks ago and it seems that there is little to be pleased about for some of the country's unions, but most concerning is that some think the small unions have got a raw deal.

"We were pretty disappointed with it, it's the haves and have-nots again," said one provincial CEO. "The bigger unions got more Saturday or Sunday games at prime time.

"We want to get kids along to games but having them kick off on Friday night at 8pm doesn't really work.

"After the second draft was put out we put in a few complaints because we were happy with the first draft. Only one or two unions complained about it and they got all of their changes approved."

Another provincial CEO, who Sunday News also agreed not to name, said it was disappointing how the draw has come out.

"With draws there are always going to be some weeks where the schedule goes against you, but I was particularly disappointed with it this year," he said.

For the Southland union, their big game each year is against Otago, but instead of this being at a weekend, when it would be hoped a bumper crowd would come along, including spectators from the rival province, there is little chance of this now happening because the game has been scheduled for 7.35pm on a Thursday night.

Southland general manager Brian Hopley admitted they were looking for this to be a Saturday or Sunday game.

"We asked for a weekend game but I understand it's pretty tough when you're doing draws," Hopley said.

"Thursday night hasn't been a bad night for us in the past but we would have preferred a weekend game for sure.

"We had to get them to change the draw down here because we've got the World Junior Cycling Champs down here and there is no way that there would be any accommodation for anyone."

But Canterbury CEO Hamish Riach denied that there had been any bias towards the bigger provinces, adding that they're disappointed over hosting Auckland on a Tuesday night.

"I don't know about other big unions because I don't spend as much time on them as I do on our own. But if anyone thinks Canterbury is getting an unfair advantage they're getting their wires completely crossed," Riach said.

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"The NZRU consults widely and they produce draws that generally no one is happy with, because everyone has such a wide range of issues that they want taken into account.

"The consultation process takes ages and it can't be that all teams get to play at a highly desirable time.

"We're not particularly happy about playing Auckland on a Tuesday night. It's a big drawcard game. We have a number of afternoon games, which didn't work well for us last year."

Meanwhile, Hopley said the Stags were paying the price for dropping down to the Championship this year, as it's made it harder to secure money from sponsors.

"It means quite a bit to be relegated," he said.

"Our sponsorship has dropped, our sponsors pushed us back a bit because we're no longer a premiership team, so it does have an impact and the sponsors can use that as leverage."

- Sunday News

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