Father Matthew Judkins has come out in defence of his daughter, asking why she and other children are being stopped from playing rugby.

Matthew's daughter Alexis is three years old, turning four in July. Last year, she played a full season of rippa-rugby at the under-7s grade as a registered player with New Zealand Rugby. Thanks to a recent rule enforcement by the Whangarei junior rugby management board, Alexis is deemed too young to play and should not have played at all.

"The big thing is they're telling us you can't play after she already has, she's going to be really upset taking that away from her."

The rule, which could not be specified by either the board or Northland Rugby, said players who had not turned four by the first of January could not play in the under-7s grade. Judkins said the rule had not been enforced Northland rugby officials for at least six years until now.

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Coach and father Matthew Judkins believes all players his daughter's age should be able to play if they want to. Photo / John Stone
Coach and father Matthew Judkins believes all players his daughter's age should be able to play if they want to. Photo / John Stone

Matthew, who had not yet told his daughter the news because of how much it would upset her, believed the joy the children got from playing rugby was enough of a reason to let them play.

"She loves playing, she wants to be there and she wants to be on the field.

"The smile on these little kids' faces when they score a try is amazing, the little kids love playing rugby and I don't see why there's an issue."

Matthew, an under-7s coach at the Marist rugby club, had been running an under-5 rippa-rugby practise session for the last three years where about 60 children of that age group had turned up to play.

"We know for a fact that they want to play otherwise the under-5s wouldn't be a success."

He said in his time as a coach, he hadn't seen any of the younger players get an injury as a result of playing with older children.

"I've been coaching for six years and I've never seen a little kid get hurt other than falling over, there's never been an injury of note."

While he felt there had been an oversight in the enforcement of the rule, Matthew believed the junior rugby board still provided a huge service to Whangarei's rugby scene.

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"Without them, there wouldn't be a junior rugby competition here so it's nothing against them or what they do, its just about this decision to not let them play."

Matthew hoped an under-6 grade would be formed to include children of Alexis' age and a separate grade for under-7s would be created to give the older ones an opportunity to play at a higher level.

Whangarei Junior Rugby Management Board chairman Ryan Donelley said he was not aware of any players under the legal age, playing in Whangarei's junior rugby competitions.

Northland Rugby chief executive Alistair McGinn said something had clearly fallen through the cracks in regards to the enforcement of the age-limit rule, but that it was up to the board to enforce it, not Northland Rugby.

He said Northland Rugby were not aware there were players who violated this rule playing in local junior rugby competitions and couldn't speculate as to whether the rule had been abused because this was also controlled by the board.

However, McGinn confirmed there would be some kind of formal rugby competition which would include players of Alexis' age and younger, as long safety was kept the main priority.

"We want everyone playing sport whether it be rugby, hockey, cricket or anything so there will be a type of rippa-rugby available to the very tender age groups, that's our dedicated goal."

A representative from New Zealand Rugby confirmed that there was a national policy put in place which prohibited players from playing with other players who were more than two years over their own age.

Whangarei junior rugby management board chairperson Ryan Donelley said he was not aware of any players under the legal age, playing in Whangarei's junior rugby competitions.

Northland Rugby chief executive Alistair McGinn said something had clearly fallen through the cracks in regards to the enforcement of the age-limit rule, but that it was up to the board to enforce it, not Northland Rugby.

He said Northland Rugby were not aware there were players who violated this rule playing in local junior rugby competitions and couldn't speculate as to whether the rule had been abused because this was also controlled by the board.

However, McGinn confirmed there would be some kind of formal rugby competition which would include players of Alexis' age and younger, as long safety was kept the main priority.

"We want everyone playing sport whether it be rugby, hockey, cricket or anything so there will be a type of rippa-rugby available to the very tender age groups, that's our dedicated goal."

A representative from New Zealand Rugby confirmed that there was a national policy put in place which prohibited players from playing with other players who were more than two years over their own age.