Prominent Hawke's Bay coaches have given the thumbs up to recommendations that have followed a review of secondary schools rugby in the country.
The review began in June last year and the resulting report was approved at New Zealand Rugby's December meeting. Implementation of the report's 31 recommendations will begin this month.
NZR's chief rugby officer, Nigel Cass, said the response to the consultation via focus groups and online submissions had been fantastic and it gave NZR confidence that it had been a thorough process with people from around New Zealand contributing ideas.
More than 500 people took part in online surveys, 300 in focus groups, and those with an interest in secondary school rugby were involved in consultation meetings, including Sky TV, player agents and Super Rugby franchises.
Former Magpies mentor Brendon Ratcliffe, who coached Napier Boys' High School's First XV to second place in the National Top Four last year, said he was impressed with how thorough the review process was. He attended one of the review's workshops late last year.
"I'm glad it touched on the moral and ethical responsibilities which schools have. There has been a loss of perspective with a win at all costs approach polluting some of the values, morals and ethics," Ratcliffe said.
"We haven't lost sight of the fact one of our main jobs at school here is to create better young men.
"We want our players to be better young men at home, at school and around the community and they will play better rugby because of it. You are not a better person because you play better rugby. You play better rugby when you are a better person ... it's a simple philosophy."
Ratcliffe stressed this approach prepares students for the "real world" and he is thrilled with the way Hawke's Bay Rugby Union staff are working alongside schools to tick off recommendations from the report.
He added his school is happy to share their knowledge and understanding of rugby with other schools wanting to improve.
One of the Bay's most experienced secondary schools rugby coaches, Hastings Boys' High School principal Rob Sturch, who is in his 35th year of coaching and will again take an F grade side this year, welcomed the report and said it included a lot of sound recommendations.
Sturch, who coached Kelston Boys High School to world and National Top Four titles earlier in his career, was pleased the report identified the fall-off in boys' numbers and noted the growth in girls' numbers was encouraging.
"I was pleased to see the report noted there was no real ownership of secondary schools rugby. It is really disjointed, fragmented and run by the regions.
"New Zealand Rugby does need to take ownership of the beast. There is one set of rules in Canterbury and another in Auckland ... it does need to be tied all together," Sturch stressed.
"It was good to see some creative solutions like 10-a-side rugby and the combining of school teams to boost numbers again. It doesn't have to be an intense battle and while the big First XVs are well catered for it's important there's a focus on the next tier down ... the little players who just want to have a run around but still represent their school," he added.
Lindisfarne College First XV mentor and former New Zealand Secondary Schools coach Karl Jones was thrilled to hear New Zealand Rugby will be the governing body for secondary schools rugby.
"In the past it has been a bit piecemeal. There will be better, clearer guidelines from the national body particularly around player enticement and recruitment which will be one of their priorities.
"Other competitions will follow the Auckland model. At the moment schools can recruit up to six new players each year. It will be interesting to see if it drops to four or two and when that happens ... Saint Kentigern College isn't the only college who recruits," Jones said referring to the Auckland private school some Auckland principals have agreed to boycott in the city's premier rugby competition due to its approach to recruiting players to its First XV.
"It was good the report stressed the importance of girls' rugby and Maori rugby. It also identified more can be done during tournament week which can be more wider ranging and not just cater for the top First XVs.
"The review has been a comprehensive process for what is a difficult area to administer. Secondary schools rugby differs from province to province and from school to school. It is an important part of New Zealand Rugby. It has been run by volunteers for a long time ... people who love it and it's good they have identified that," Jones said.
"There are lots of other considerations for teenagers at schools these days like work and driving fast cars. We've got to try something new to keep them in the game and I'm sure there will be a lot more recommendations to come out," he added.
New Zealand Rugby will prioritise six of the 31 recommendations over the next 12 to 15 months including: recruit NZR manager of secondary school rugby, review of New Zealand secondary school rugby governance, develop NZR secondary school rugby strategy, implement priority recommendations for girls' rugby, review of Rugby Administrators In Schools (RAIS) funding model, and investigate the expansion of the E Tu Rangatahi programme for Māori players in secondary schools.