The news that junior and youth rugby player numbers are up in Auckland, traditionally the engine behind the country's on-field success at the top level, and also North Harbour and Counties Manukau, is fantastic for those who work in the game, play it and support it.
But their release yesterday may also serve to mask what remains the biggest issue facing the community game in New Zealand: how to keep secondary school children (and in particular boys) interested in the game.
Junior clubs are booming in and around Auckland and they have been for some time. However, the drop-off in secondary school numbers has long troubled rugby administrators because once children quit the game at school there is very little chance of them boosting senior club teams when they leave for a job or tertiary education.
Harbour chief executive David Gibson said his organisation has been through an eight-month consulting process with schools in his area focused on how to keep boys aged 12-15 engaged.
In summary, an increased focus on safety, the option of playing in weight-restricted grades and introduction of non-contact (rippa rugby) has helped, he says, as has the capacity for club teams of 14-year-olds to play in competitions alongside schools. A shift in priority from high-performance (first XV) to keeping all children engaged will also help. All of this appears well thought through. And to a large extent effective.
However, Gibson tells the Herald: "Rugby has a problem that needs to be addressed - secondary school aged male players are leaving the game at concerning rates. This is a national challenge that is quite confronting. This trend is having an adverse impact on rugby in our schools and the senior clubs. There are long-standing issues that need to be resolved at this level and rugby needs positive change now to stop the declining numbers."
The senior club numbers tell a significant story. Against the odds perhaps, they're up slightly at Harbour, but flat in Auckland and down at Counties Manukau.
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Again, there are many reasons for that drop-off. Like with schoolkids, there are more sporting and entertainment options these days, but for senior players there is the added pressure of work – and particularly the requirement to work nights and weekends.
Counties Manukau Rugby chief executive Aaron Lawton is happy with the way the junior and youth game has bounced back after last year, but he tells the Herald: "The community game is not without its challenges and we've struggled a bit for numbers in some of our senior grades this year. The anecdotal feedback is certainly that some of our players have been prioritising work over sport which is understandable."
The need for players to work is out of the control of unions.
But Harbour's experiment in allowing clubs to enter teams to play alongside secondary schools may help boost numbers upstream of senior level.
It's not a particularly new idea but in the modern age it may be key. Clubs are usually vibrant and supportive places for kids to play – they get a chance to mix with those they don't to go school with, and they may dodge the whole high-performance pressure of first-XV-or-bust that is turning boys off these days.