Rugby: Roller Mills tournament change hits opposition

By Campbell Burnes

The Roller Mills tournament is played by intermediate age schoolboys. Photo / Chris Callinan
The Roller Mills tournament is played by intermediate age schoolboys. Photo / Chris Callinan

Some people are calling it the death of an iconic rugby tournament.

The annual Roller Mills competition, for northern region intermediate age schoolboys, is shifting from its traditional weekly format to a new programme, to be played over several weekends.

This is due to the need to reduce travel and accommodation costs, but the changes have met opposition.

The tournament, which has produced at least 62 All Blacks, has run since 1925. It was habitually played in the September school holidays, but this year kicks off on August 31, with finals scheduled for Tauranga on October 4-5.

The traditional weigh-in (boys must be under 57kg), previously done on opening day, will now have to be done each weekend.

Ian Spraggon has had 45 years involvement in several capacities with Roller Mills rugby, and is sceptical about the direction it is now heading, saying it will lose its traditional feel and flavour, not to mention the social aspect for parents who made a week of it supporting their children.

"For a week it got serious exposure and the kids gained knowledge watching other games. Now it will be fragmented," said Spraggon.

"I find it interesting that it's a schoolboy tournament and there hasn't been consultation with the primary schools," he added.

The primary schools rugby unions officially ran the tournament until the early 2000s, about the same time the practice of billeting - a major cost-saver - was discontinued due to societal changes and the apparent need for police vetting of billets.

Spraggon laments the end of billeting, but believes the cost issue is overblown, with some unions not having to fork out as much as others due to the ability and willingness of Roller Mills teams to access grants and tap in to sponsors.

Chairman of the northern regions council, which cast a majority vote to change the format, is Miles Marcroft of North Harbour.

He does not see the issue as Spraggon does, but says due thought and consultation has gone into the decision, driven by several factors, not the least of which are cost and player welfare, with up to six games in seven days (though Roller Mills is not unique with regard to this tight scheduling).

"It wasn't a kneejerk call by North Harbour, but if the unions were to say this new format didn't work, we would look at it and change it back if need be," said Marcroft.

"A change like this wasn't made simply or easily, so some aren't as happy as others."

- NZ Herald

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