Taranaki's flagship senior competition has been further diluted after the withdrawal of Eltham-Kaponga.
The combined side notified the Taranaki Rugby Football Union last week of its intention to drop down to the senior B grade, citing a lack of depth as the main reason.
The decision had been on the cards for a number of seasons as the south Taranaki side struggled to field a competitive team.
Their withdrawal comes three years after Waverley-based club Border dropped out of the senior A competition for similar reasons.
With just eight teams now left in the senior A competition, the first round has been shifted from March 16 to April 6, and teams will no longer play two games over the Easter period.
Other significant changes have also been proposed, including having separate club finals days.
The senior A final was still scheduled for July 20, with all other grade finals likely to be played two weeks later.
That proposal has been met with anger by some club chairmen who think running separate final days will ''stuff'' the concept and further downgrade a popular format which annually attracts several thousand spectators.
Some clubs are also unhappy the proposed senior B competition would not mirror the top grade because A teams regularly used players from their second tier sides as reserves.
Taranaki Rugby operations manager Derek Dingle acknowledged it was hardly an ideal situation but the union had limited options available to it.
''The crux of the matter is with eight teams in senior A [competition] and nine teams in senior B, you can not have a mirrored competition as all clubs have requested,'' he said.
''Similarly, you can not have all grades playing simultaneously at the club finals day within the time frames set.''
Dingle said the union's operations committee was continuing to consult with clubs in an attempt to resolve issues raised.
Eltham-Kaponga spokesman Brendan Crowley said they had little option but to take the action they have, saying it came down to player availability.
While the club had attracted a number of new players, Crowley said it had only 18 players who could commit each week.
''That just wasn't enough.
''People think we pulled out just because we didn't have a front row but it wasn't just there, and we could have fielded a front row of some standard, but when you have three or four guys on shift work, we would have struggled to field a side.''
Crowley intends to stand down as coach, with Brent Perrett and former Taranaki halfback Craig Fevre taking over.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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