Funding boost out of the blue

Taranaki Rugby chief executive Neil Pennington
Taranaki Rugby chief executive Neil Pennington

News that provincial unions are set to reap some of the cash AIG laid out to sponsor the All Blacks has surprised Taranaki's rugby boss.

"The first thing I knew about it was when I read it in the newspaper," Taranaki Rugby chief executive Neil Pennington said yesterday. "Nothing was said about it when we met last week."

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew this week hinted that all 26 provincial unions were in line for an increase on the grants they receive from the governing body thanks to the multi-million-dollar AIG deal.

Just how much remains a mystery, with Pennington not expecting any indication until the players' collective agreement is signed off.

"We get a reasonable fill-up of cash from them but it would be nice if that increased, for sure," Pennington said.

Taranaki Rugby's financial position remains relatively healthy but Pennington would not give any indication as to how the financial year was likely to shape up for the union, with its accounts not due to be finalised until next month.

He said any increased payout from the NZRU was not likely to be huge, with most payments tailored to the number of registered players the union has.

Taranaki remains small on the overall scale and suffered about a 4 to 5 per cent drop in player numbers for the 2012 season.

The number of players leaving the game after they finished secondary school remained a concern for the union, as did a drop-off in primary school numbers.

"It's an area we have certainly targeted as part of our business plan for next year," Pennington said.

"We really need to get into the primary schools and utilise a number of different forms of the game that we do have, like Rippa, sevens and 10s."

While numbers were down at primary level, they did increase at senior level, while there was also a rise in registered coaches and referees.

Meanwhile, the first group of sevens players from the Beijing technical sports college completed their month-long coaching programme yesterday.

Sixteen of the country's best female players have been accompanied by 15 men's players and a 10-strong management team, including doctors, chefs and coaches.

The players finished off by receiving a day's tuition from veteran New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens at Yarrow Stadium.

Pennington rated the overall programme a "huge success" and was hopeful it could become a long-term arrangement.

"It's a good reflection of the Taranaki Rugby Football Union that it's able to undertake such a massive exercise with a limited number of people," he said.

"We believe the Chinese got a hell of a lot out of it, their physical tests were up on when they arrived and they have learnt a lot under our coaches. We're really hopeful of being able to continue."

A decision on whether the Chinese come back is likely to be made by May.

Taranaki Daily News