11 of 14 provinces want no midweek games

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2012

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Eleven provincial unions have asked the New Zealand Rugby Union to scrap mid-week NPC matches and extend the competition by a fortnight.

While Canterbury, Auckland and Wellington want to retain the current format, in which midweek games are an unpopular feature, the remaining provinces have advised the NZRU they want change.

Instead of being forced to host week-day matches they have requested the competition be extended to 12 weeks. This requires starting a week earlier and finishing a week later.

Tasman chief executive Andrew Flexman said his province was "unreservedly" in favour of change amid concerns they were losing money from hosting midweek games. "It's a lost cause to get people to attend mid-week games ‘live'," Flexman said. "We have probably lost money hosting games. Either it changes or maybe the NZRU's grants need to be increased because we are a significant contributor to the broadcasting deal.

"We [the smaller unions] need to be staunch, collectively, on this one."

Several coaches from the smaller provinces say the compacted season has a detrimental effect because players cannot recover from injuries.

For the likes of Tasman, which are allowed a budget of $730,000 for player salaries, injuries quickly erode their depth.

Last month the NZRU requested provinces choose between four potential "windows" for the 2013 NPC. The findings will be discussed by the NZRU board on December 14.

Canterbury chief executive Hamish Riach recently declined to comment on his union's recommendations. But it is understood the major unions feel the extended competition could impact on their Super Rugby franchises.

Next year's Super Rugby final is set for August 3, meaning there is potential for major unions like Canterbury to be without some players for the opening rounds if the NPC starts around August 16.

The players' collective states players are entitled to two weeks leave upon completion of franchise duties but some require longer to recover.

Northland chief executive Jeremy Parkinson said he supported the premiership-championship structure but not the midweek matches.

"Our budget for players was around $650,000 and we think that might be $100,000 less than the majority of others. On our day, when we didn't have injuries, we felt we could compete with anyone," he said. "But that can change with injuries."

Commercially it was very difficult with midweek games also. Weekend rugby makes things a lot easier financially."

A flurry of emails and phone calls have already pre-empted the NZRU's December 14 meeting with the 11 provinces in agreement that changes must be made. The majority, if not all, provinces want playoffs retained.

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