New Zealand Rugby have announced the development of new guidelines on more "ethical and inclusive policies" for player recruitment in college rugby.
It was one of many revelations in a report released today after the completion of an independent review into New Zealand secondary schools rugby by NZ Rugby.
The report – which consulted several parties involved in New Zealand's secondary schools rugby environment – was particularly damning of First XV rugby and the recruitment practices of some schools.
Many of the people surveyed expressed concerns over the recruitment practices of some schools, a sentiment later echoed in a report by the Herald last month revealing that 10 Auckland schools said they would boycott St Kentigern College in this year's 1A competition due to their recruitment policy.
"There is widespread concern over the impacts of player recruitment into selected schools. Some of these consequences maybe unintended," said the report.
Despite the review being completed before the St Kents boycott came to light, NZ Rugby Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said he was satisfied that the wide-ranging review – which was completed in October before the St Kents story broke – was thorough enough to address the issue and the concerns of the schools.
"We will implement the review's recommendation to develop guidelines for the number of new-to-school players and player transfer and enticements," he said in an email statement to the Herald.
"The review was very thorough and wide ranging and we're satisfied it addresses the issues around performance level rugby in secondary schools."
Cass said the new governance structure recommended in the review will ensure NZ Rugby has a "greater leadership role in ensuring these guidelines are implemented".
Last month, College Sport, the body that oversees school sport in Auckland, confirmed an independent panel to investigate the complaints from the 10 Auckland schools regarding the recruitment practices of St Kents. This investigation is separate from the review conducted by NZ Rugby.
The NZ Rugby report also found the number of boys playing rugby in secondary schools is trending downwards at an "alarming rate".
Participants in the review pointed to the concentration of rugby talent at certain schools as one of the main reasons for the decline.
"In general, they view the pooling of talent into a few strong rugby schools as a significant factor in the decrease of numbers playing the game because of flow on effects of, for example uneven competitions," said the report.
Among the recommendations to grow participation among boys include clearly defined "performance" grades to maximise participation, the introduction of rules to promote safety, and other forms of rugby – quick rip, sevens, 10s, etc.
On the other hand, the growth of the sport among girls was growing according to the report, with the popularity of the Black Ferns and women's rugby also seemingly at an all-time high.
Cass said NZ Rugby have an "exciting challenge" and will be working hard to implement more equitable resourcing for girls' rugby.
"Girls' rugby is the fastest growing area of our game and we have an exciting challenge to make sure all girls have opportunities to play rugby in a fun, safe and positive environment," he said.
"NZR whole heartedly supports these recommendations and we'll be working hard with schools and Provincial Unions to achieve them. We've already increased our support and resourcing for women's rugby, and there's always more that can be done.
"As recommended in the review, we'll be establishing and implementing measures to make sure girls' rugby at co-ed secondary school level is equitably resourced alongside boys' rugby. And, in schools where girls' rugby is a 'new' sport, we'll be working alongside schools to encourage them to adequately resource their teams."
Key recommendations include:
• NZ Rugby is the governance body and establishes an advisory group (New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby Union) to develop vision, values and strategy for secondary school rugby
• NZR Manager of Secondary School Rugby appointed
• Guidelines for both performance and non-performance grades
• Equitable resourcing of girls' rugby in co-ed schools and adequate resourcing in schools where girls' rugby is a "new" sport
• Guidelines for Provincial Unions and schools on format and form of secondary school rugby grades for both boys and girls
• Expansion of E Tu Rangatahi programme
NZR 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
• Investigate the expansion of the E Tu Rangatahi programme for Māori players in secondary schools
NZR commissioned the review into secondary school rugby in June 2018 to better understand the various factors affecting the New Zealand secondary school rugby environment. The aim of the review is to ensure that there is a successful model for secondary school rugby throughout New Zealand in which boys and girls can both participate and perform.
The review involved consultation with students, Provincial Union and club rugby staff, secondary school staff and principals, interest groups and online submissions from the public.
The independent review was led, following a contestable process, by EdSol NZ, an educational consultancy company. The co-directors of EdSol NZ, Peter Gall and Michael Leach, were the lead reviewers and they were assisted by Brent Anderson, former NZR Head of Community Rugby.
Read the full report here.