Tamatea premier coach Levi Armstrong has welcomed changes to next year's Hawke's Bay club rugby competitions which will include the scrapping of the annual promotion-relegation clash.
"These changes are a huge relief for the club. Halfway through this season's Maddison Trophy competition we decided our main goal was to try to avoid the promotion-relegation game," Armstrong recalled.
His club had been involved in the majority of the promotion-relegation games during the past 15 years against the top division two team and managed to win these fixtures to maintain premier status. Despite
finishing bottom of the Maddison Trophy competition this year Tamatea didn't have to play a promotion-relegation match as neither of the division two finalists, Otane and Maraenui, had the desire to play in the premier grade.
Had the fixture been played it would have been five weeks after Tamatea's last game and Armstrong, who had struggled on numerous occasions to field more than 16 players throughout the season, would have struggled to put a team on the park.
"The changes will make it easier for us to recruit players and our recruitment programmes are under way. Now our main goal will be trying to finish among the top eight," Armstrong added.
Head coach of Maddison Trophy holders Napier Old Boys Marist, Craig Gowler, said while his club has always supported the Hawke's Bay union's club formats he described the changes as "a real positive step."
"Both the Nash Cup and Maddison Trophy rounds will have a real purpose now. Clubs will have to set things in motion a lot earlier now because if you don't make the top eight in the first round you don't get to play for the Maddison."
From next year a major change sees the Maddison Trophy round being contested by only the top eight sides from the Nash Cup. This will place more significance on the first round which has experienced an increasing number of defaults during the past three seasons.
Additionally, any sides contesting the Maddison Trophy round who have defaulted Nash Cup games will have a further sanction by having to carry any default points over into their second round.
The two relegated sides will play in a modified division one competition including the top two qualifying sides from what was the Town-Country competition and top qualifiers from the premier reserve grade, from which will see the top two sides qualify for promotion to play in the following year's Nash Cup.
"The key drivers for change were around providing a more compelling and competitive premier grade, a more competitive division one competition with a clear pathway for promotion while also ensuring the integrity of Hawke's Bay club competitions remained paramount," said Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Jay Campbell.
Next year's club season will begin on March 21, a week later than it did this year. There will be no midweek or doubleheader rounds, ensuring that player welfare remains sacrosanct.
"The current club rugby structure was untenable with the Nash Cup sadly being used by many clubs as a warm-up to the Maddison with it being too easy to default matches with little or no consequences for doing so,''Campbell said.
"We needed a clear pathway for those clubs looking for promotion, with the current structure making it near impossible for teams to be promoted. With this new club structure we are hoping to improve the quality of rugby played across both divisions while also ensuring that Super and Magpies' players continue playing a key part in the competitions.''
Campbell's club rugby manager Gary Macdonald is excited about the revamp.
"These changes will drive an overall stronger club competition with real consequences for clubs that default, particularly at premier level and clubs will now need to think long and hard and have a 'real' reason before they default a game.''
"With the NZ Rugby national finals day being set at July 18 and with the Mitre 10 Cup now kicking off earlier, the new structure is in the best interests of all rugby stakeholders, clubs, players and the union,'' Macdonald added.
There are no changes to division three, colts or women's rugby.
Next year's Nash Cup competition will cater for the existing 10 premier teams. It will end on May 16 and the Maddison Trophy round will start on May 23.