Change is coming to the New Zealand Rugby board, with former deputy Labour leader Dame Annette King and All Blacks legend Sir Michael Jones set to go head-to-head for one elected position.

The Herald on Sunday understands King or Jones will replace former first-class and test referee Glenn Wahlstrom on NZR's nine-person board.

King was nominated by the Wellington union and seconded by Wairarapa Bush.
Tasman pushed for Jones with Taranaki seconding his nomination.

At least year's annual meeting NZR encouraged provinces to look within for board candidates that would create greater diversity and inclusion around the decision-making table.


While King and Jones tick the diversity box, both are strong candidates in their own right.

King, the former MP for Rongotai, Miramar and Horowhenua, left parliament after 33 years which included 10 as a minister in 2017.

Wellington nominated King because it believes specific rugby knowledge is already well covered by the eight existing board members. The union also noted her role alongside Helen Clark in helping to secure the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and with the local body involved in moving rugby from Athletic Park to Westpac Stadium.

"They were keen to nominate someone who showed the change in direction of the rugby union," King told the Herald. "It was a real honour to be put forward. I didn't expect to get this far but I'm delighted it's got to this point.

"I wouldn't be going on the board as a rugby person. I've had a long-time interest in rugby but that's not my strength. I bring a skill set that would be a little different. I've got a lot of political experience, and experience working with communities, in advocacy, and I would be useful at this point in the cycle. I've got very good contacts back into our new government. I bring that diversity, and in fact so does Michael Jones. I certainly don't bring rugby."

King, made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours, is expected to take up the position of Australian High Commissioner from August. The 70-year-old rejected suggestions that role, based in Canberra, would compromise her ability to serve on the NZR board.

"No, I don't think so. It is speculation at this point but if it was to come to pass I can actually see some benefits for both roles. Rugby is such an integral part of New Zealand's way of life and culture."

Jones, who could not be reached for comment, played 74 matches, including 55 tests, in the loose forwards between 1987 and 1998. A rugby icon, the 52-year-old was a gifted athlete and considered one of New Zealand's greatest players.

Jones also played for and coached Samoa, and his strong Polynesian heritage could be a trump card when it comes to connecting with those big communities in Auckland and Wellington in particular.

Last year Jones was knighted for being a driver of economic and social development for Pacific people in New Zealand, and in the Pacific region.

He did, however, try and fail to gain a place on the Auckland Rugby Union board last year.

Now the politicking begins. King and Jones have one month left to garner enough support.

NZR holds its annual meeting on April 19 with around 91 votes cast after both present to the floor.

All unions cast votes by secret ballot. Each ballot requires two signatures from the attending representatives to confirm it is true and correct.

Every union has a certain number of votes depending on their size.

Auckland, the largest union, gets around seven votes with Canterbury and Wellington not far behind.

Other provinces get 3-6 votes while the Heartland unions are allocated 2-3, with 46 thought to be the magic number.

Lobbying is underway, with King understood to have met Canterbury's chairman in Christchurch on Thursday.

She is bidding to join former Black Ferns captain Dr Farah Palmer, the first women appointed to the NZR board in late 2016.

"I've already met some of the provincial unions and I've got more lined up," King said. "The unions I've spoken to so far have been very willing to talk. It's an open process and they're being very accommodating. We'll see how it plays out."