NPC format unsustainable, says rugby boss

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 27/09/2012
Neil Pennington
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX NZ
STRONG VIEWS: Taranaki Rugby boss Neil Pennington wants changes made to the NPC format.

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Taranaki Rugby boss Neil Pennington has added his voice to the growing chorus of frustration about the NPC format.

"It's unsustainable," he said bluntly yesterday. "The crowds are dwindling and I've had people saying to me that it's overkill."

Several union bosses, along with coaches, have expressed their displeasure in the past week about the congested nature of the competition which has proved a turnoff for fans in most main centres and provinces.

Taranaki has been insulated from the poor attendances compared to other unions thanks mainly to them holding the Ranfurly Shield.

While some unions are averaging between 3000 and 4000 fans to each game, Taranaki has fared better, getting an average crowd of just over 9000 to their three home games to date.

Despite the fans still turning up to Yarrow Stadium, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has maintained his criticism of the format, which sees his side playing 10 games in eight weeks, including two midweek fixtures, because it does not allow him to properly coach and prepare his squad.

"People only have so much discretionary income, so they are having to pick and choose which games they go to," Pennington said. "There is a whole range of issues and it is putting pressure on all unions' financial state."

Pennington acknowledged some of the financial strains associated with the condensed format were offset by grants given by the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"But if the crowds keep dwindling and we look two or three years down the track, there will be a lot less revenue."

He was also concerned about player welfare, saying they became more injury prone when fatigued, especially when they were forced to play three games in a week.

"If they want to keep the structure of 10 games, they have got to get rid of at least one midweek game and maybe have five or six days break between them," he said.

The Taranaki Rugby Football Union backs NZRU boss Steve Tew's view that the club window has to be protected.

One option the union was putting forward as a possible solution to finding an extra week was doing away with one of the byes during the Super Rugby season, with Pennington questioning whether two were needed with squads having a three-week break because of the June test window.

Ideally, Taranaki want a 10-team NPC with four unions dropping out to the Heartland Championship.

"It's about quality and sustainability," Pennington said. "Nineteen professional rugby teams in New Zealand is just not sustainable. Saying that, if we were one of the four bottom teams we would be screaming from the roof tops that it needs to be 14 teams."

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Pennington said he would not be surprised if a number of unions end up going to the NZRU with their hands out at the end of the season because of the poor attendances in 2012.

Meanwhile, Pennington said he would not comment on their bid to hold a licence to operate a Super Rugby franchise other than to say their bid had "been parked" since indicating to the NZRU their expression of interest earlier this year.

The Taranaki Daily News understands negotiations stalled at an early stage with sides poles apart on their "vision" for the franchise.

Pennington said the chances of the Hurricanes playing in New Plymouth next year would depend on who was offered up as opposition.

This year's Hurricanes and Sharks match almost ran at a loss.

"We are not going to take money out of our community game to fund a game for a franchise. Our fans don't want that and we certainly don't want that."

It is believed Taranaki was offered the Lions on Easter Saturday. The Lions have subsequently been replaced by the Southern Kings.

- Taranaki

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