Schools have been unable to enter teams in school-aged rugby competitions because they can't guarantee fielding 15 players each week, or at all.
Some young players move away from rugby once they reach the Under 11 age group because they're not ready to play a 15-a-side game on a full-sized rugby field.
There have also been players who want to get into rugby but are not quite confident enough to play contact.
These are some of the motives behind New Zealand Rugby's several changes that are being implemented to school and club rugby, with the first phase to roll out for the 2020 season.
The changes include a new club rugby and secondary school initiative known as 'Game On' being introduced next season, more focus on non-contact RipRugby and 10-a-side rugby for Under 11s.
This year, those playing in the Under 11 division in the Bay of Plenty have played a 15-a-side game on a full field. The changes will mean, however, that those players moving from the 10-a-side Under 10 division into the Under 11 grade next season, will again play the 10-a-side game on a half-sized field.
Game On, which is designed to reduce the number of default matches due to lack of flexibility for player numbers, will mean schools who struggle to enter a team into school competitions may now be able to.
Previously, if teams didn't have 15 players they would have to default but the new initiative aims to encourage games to continue.
Provincial Unions will be implementing Game On into nominated grades and the initiative will introduce rolling substitutions to matches, while also allowing teams to modify team size, game length and scrum contests.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union's secondary schools rugby manager Ian Parata says they had been offering a similar competition in the region already - where schools played for different cups during the season - but there was a lot of excitement around the Game On initiative.
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Parata says schools such as Katikati College, Reporoa College, Tarawera High School, Ōpōtiki College, Murupara Area School, Edgecumbe College and even Bethlehem College are now able to field teams for competitions playing either 10, 11, 12/13, 14 and 15-a-side. Depending on the side of the team will depend on the length of the game.
He says it has nothing to do with easier competition and everything to do with increasing participation, offering more options for wider competition, and allowing strong competition across all schools. Parata says the benefits aren't only for the smaller schools, saying it also gives students in the bigger schools more chance to represent their schools, being able to potentially enter more teams into different competitions.
Discussions have been carried out with local schools and Parata says "we know this is having a positive impact already".
"Schools can be really competitive if they've got 12 boys on the paddock," he says.
"We have something like 23 secondary schools and you know they're all supportive of it."
In regards to the Under 11 format change, Parata says discussions are still being carried out among the junior rugby committee.
"New Zealand Rugby feels there is a certain drop off in player participants when they move to full field."
Under the changes, non-contact RipRugby, formerly QuickRip, will be offered to older age groups and introduced as a format at rugby clubs and schools.
Parata says they already offer the RipRugby format as part of their sevens summer season and RipRugby will be part of the North Island Secondary School competition.
"That's enjoyed by all that play that," Parata says.
He says it is part of mainstream rugby and not only helps get more people into playing, it also gives players confidence to move into the contact sport.
"John Paul College in Rotorua they started QuickRip and within one year the girls were playing tackle ... it's about getting confidence and skills and enjoying the game first without having to go straight to the [contact]."
New Zealand Rugby head of participation and development Steve Lancaster says the key motivator for change is improving the experience for everyone involved.
"Rugby has been our national sport for over 125 years, our player numbers remain strong and as a country, we continue to produce world-class rugby teams and athletes," Lancaster said.
"Our developments will help us future-proof rugby and remain relevant for the next 125 years."
Lancaster says people love playing rugby but they have busy lives and it can be hard to commit to turning up every Saturday for 16 weeks.
"There are so many more options competing for their time so we need to make sure rugby remains attractive and accessible in the context of people's busy, modern lives."
Lancaster says the shift of Under 11 grade Small Blacks rugby going to a 10-a-side on a half field competitions reflects best-practice for the development of young rugby players, while RipRugby helped more people enjoy the sport.
"Small Blacks want to learn how to be better, play with their mates and have fun. That's what sport is about at that age."
"Non-contact and shortened versions like sevens are growing in popularity, especially with teenagers. Provincial Unions are seeing real success already with RipRugby which enables kids to enjoy the game without the usual commitment, nor risk of injury. Kids are loving it and staying in the sport," Lancaster says.
Provincial Unions are set to introduce the new developments into school and club rugby from 1 January 2020, with a review in August 2020.
About Game On:
Game On will apply to all Provincial Unions in New Zealand. Both senior club rugby and secondary school rugby will use Game On.
Game On will only be used when a team(s) has less than 15 players and/or insufficient front rowers to commence the match. Agreement must be reached between teams and match officials prior to the match starting and are encouraged to agree in the days leading up to match day.
Game On matches will be played under the current Laws of Rugby.
The team that does not have the required 15 players or front rowers does not automatically lose the match, or competition points.
Game On will be reviewed in August 2020 in time to make improvements for the 2021 season.