A former Hurricane who became involved in club and schoolboy rugby in Hawke's Bay says he is stunned and frustrated by the lack of respect for and acknowledgment of the grassroots game.
Campbell Feather grew up in Taranaki, but moved to Hawke's Bay after his professional rugby career and volunteered for both Lindisfarne College and Havelock North Rugby Club.
He said he saw how tough it was for club rugby coaches to put teams together with players pulled into high-performance and professional pathways.
"The attitude was very much like it's not required, it's not needed, it's all about Magpies and above," Feather said.
The 31-cap Hurricane said there needs to be a more defined split between amateur and professional rugby in New Zealand, perhaps even with different rules to differentiate grassroots from the supremely fast and physical professional game.
Feather added that there needs to be a greater focus on participation and the social, fun aspects of rugby at the non-professional level.
"The professional side has infiltrated club rugby and schoolboy rugby with a high-performance element, and I get that, but I think it's been detrimental," he said.
Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union CEO Jay Campbell said he respected Feather's opinion as a passionate rugby man an advocate for the community game.
"We are doing some things, but he's right, there are some massive fundamental issues with the game," Campbell said.
He said the union is working really hard on the community game by implementing a number of strategies to grow it by putting the participant first.
"Young men and women playing the game have different attitudes, needs and wants than generations before them, and we need to try and change to reflect those needs, and make sure the game is appealing for them and their friends," Campbell said.
"There's so many competing things for young people to do these days, that no longer is organised sport, of which rugby is one, now the priority."
The report presented at the union's AGM last month said there are 23 rugby clubs in Hawke's Bay, with 1700 registered senior players and 4600 registered junior players.
Jay Campbell said that while he would love clubs to be the heartbeat of communities that they once were, something Feather is pushing for, there are greater societal issues that mean that is no longer the case.
"While we can continually look in the rearview mirror, it's probably best for us to look out the front window and see what's in front of us," he said.
On the eve of its 135th season Takapau Rugby Club in Central Hawke's Bay has been unable to field a senior men's team, with club president Craig Skedgwell citing poor follow-through by high school players after leaving school, as well as fear of injury and a consequent loss of wages.
"Players don't want to face going on ACC due to injury and having to sacrifice 20 per cent of their income. One of our players was even threatened with the loss of his job if he got injured.
"We've looked at player insurance but it's too costly for clubs. We'd like the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union to take a look at the situation. It's a shame, there are a heap of players out there and there's an important social side to club rugby in smaller communities, but they can't commit due to that injury risk."
The CEO said fixing these issues would require incremental change with buy-in at every level of the rugby system nationwide.
"We need to start working together to try and find solutions that keep rugby as a code of choice in our province," Campbell said.
"I've got no doubt that the over-emphasis on high performance at high schools has a detrimental effect to rugby."
Feather agreed secondary school rugby has become too intense.
"There's far too much pressure on young guys, and I think the statistics will prove that's where the numbers are dropping off," he said.
Feather said despite his qualms, the Hawke's Bay union get it more right than wrong in their support for the community game.
Campbell said every year it is a challenge to get the balance right between funding grassroots rugby, and funding the professional teams that drive a huge proportion of revenue for the union.
"I'm the chief executive of Hawke's Bay Rugby, not the Magpies," he said.
"So for me, I have to make sure we are committing enough resources and funds into the community game, that actually make sure that we're growing the game across the province."