Scholarship scheme aiming to level club rugby launched by Canterbury Rugby and Ara
A new scholarship fund aims to bring some equality to a Christchurch club rugby competition some claim is unbalanced.
The Canterbury Rugby Football Union (CRFU) on Friday announced a three-year partnership with the Ara Institute of Canterbury, which would provide scholarships for about 20 players to study at the tertiary institution while playing for local rugby clubs. The programme is worth $50,000 a year.
The announcement comes before the Canterbury Metro Club final on Sunday between the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University, which has won the two previous years. Both institutions offer sports scholarships, which can include rugby.
Earlier in the year, New Brighton co-coach Scott Pawson said Lincoln was on "the cusp of first-class rugby" as it had professional coaches and used scholarships to attract star players from outside the region.
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He said everyone knew Lincoln would win the club rugby competition – before a ball was even kicked. Whether or not he was right will be decided on the weekend.
CRFU chief executive Nathan Godfrey said the "significant fund" was "certainly a step towards equalisation" in the competition.
He said clubs had "made it clear" they felt some teams had an unfair advantage.
Clubs would have to achieve certain metrics to be eligible for the new scholarships.
Godfrey said they were still working through the mechanics of what that would be, but it was likely to include growth in junior registrations and plans on how to help transition scholarship players into full-time employment.
Pawson said club rugby would become better all round because of the programme.
"If [the scholarships are] spread out evenly between all the clubs, they're going to be beneficial."
He said there were a lot of good rugby players who did not go to university and it would be good for clubs to have a chance to get such players.
"If there's a scholarship and it's being paid for, players will go for that."
As part of the partnership, Ara will provide club administrators with training and support to help improve the clubs' operation.
"Our objective is to improve the capability of our clubs and we need to bridge the gap between the amateur and professional game, that's really important," Godfrey said.
"We've listened to our clubs over the past few months, but we're also challenging them to think about how they can improve their club from both a player and administrator's perspective."
Ara engagement manager Emma West said the partnership would strengthen the clubs' capabilities in areas such as financial governance, event management, and health and safety.
Lincoln has previously attracted talent such as Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock and Scott and Jordie Barrett with its scholarship program.