Smaller unions' NPC wishes are granted

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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The New Zealand Rugby Union has scrapped Tuesday night fixtures and extended next year's National Provincial Championship.

Eleven of the 14 provincial unions requested the NZRU change the controversial format which frustrated coaches, players and fans this season.

Now the round-robin, which this season lasted seven weeks and three days, has been stretched to nine weeks. The NPC will begin a week earlier on August 17.

While Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland stated in a feedback document they were content with the compressed tournament, the smaller unions argued mid-week games were a financial disaster and the short turnaround didn't give players enough time to recover from injuries.

The big three unions were against extending the competition because of concerns about not having some players available following a heavy Super Rugby workload.

The Super Rugby final is set to be played on August 3.

The scrapping of Tuesday night matches means teams will have only one short turnaround, instead of two, and games will now be played between Wednesday and Sunday. The finalised draw is expected to be released in February.

"There is still a very clear desire for the ITM Cup to retain a standalone window in order to preserve the windows currently for both club and Super Rugby," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said.

"Starting a week earlier is a sensible solution that doesn't compromise those dedicated timeframes."

Meanwhile, former Canterbury openside flanker Brendon O'Connor has signed with Hawke's Bay for the next two seasons. He totalled 17 appearances for Canterbury.

O'Connor, who has signed with the Blues after being a member of the Crusaders' wider training group, did not play for Canterbury this season because of a knee injury.

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