Two All Black greats have come out in strong support of North Harbour's radical new plan for kids rugby that divided rugby opinion over the weekend.
As revealed by the Weekend Herald, North Harbour will become New Zealand's first provincial union to dissolve its junior rep programme, following its decision to scrap their Roller Mills and under-14 teams, and the end-of-season Junior Club Representative Tournament.
The changes will see a focus on maximising engagement and growing participation by making sure kids have more fun, with North Harbour introducing a non-contact Rippa grade aimed at boys aged between 8-13, and under-15s and school grade girls teams.
All Black great Buck Shelford said he never made an age group side as a young player, but it didn't impact his future.
"I got dropped out at primary school. They probably thought I was no good.
"I never made another team until I came to Auckland and made the Auckland under 17's. I still wanted to win, I still wanted to play rugby at the highest level.
"I look at it and go, well we didn't play outside the Bay of Plenty in my day… Do you really need it for the kids that are that young? They can still aspire to win. They still play for their club sides. Do you really need a representative team to play in another tournament?
"I don't think because you're not in a rep team, you'll stop developing. As you go through the college system most schools have pretty good coaches and they develop kids anyway and when they finish schools they go back to the club and get more development. So, do you really need to have representative football at a really young age?"
Former All Black Jeff Wilson, a former coach at North Harbour (2009-2012), believes the changes will encourage more children to play rugby, whereas traditional club representative sides can leave some kids feeling disillusioned with the game.
"I feel pretty strongly about this, I actually think it's a great move," Wilson told Radio Sport today.
"I just don't understand the reasoning with kids of that age, to say that they're not good enough, and that 'we're going to pick these rep squads'.
"When you say 'rep squads' a lot of clubs are saying that they're rep teams but they're just the best of a grade coming together.
"At that age it's about enjoyment and trying to help as many kids enjoy the game as possible. It's a great move."
Wilson understands the change will be questioned by rugby traditionalists, but is adamant North Harbour is making the right move in the face of growing competition from rival sporting codes.
"I know the Roller Mills has been a big part of history up here in the North Island, but they've obviously looked at this and decided the best way for them to move forward is to develop as many kids as they possibly can at a young age and improve participation, because we know that's a real challenge for every sport," he said.
"I'm a supporter of this. I can understand why they're doing it. There will always be the naysayers but I think it's a step in the right direction.
"The reality is there are so many choices out there for young kids to do now. There's so many things that what you need to do, is encourage the enjoyment of the game and give kids the chance to enjoy it.
"There's no doubt that rugby is competing with so many other sports out there and I think it's just a reality of what we face now, is that the kids want to get out there and they want to enjoy what they're doing."
Wilson believes rugby will benefit long-term if there is less of an emphasis on children winning and earning representative selection, and more of a focus on them having fun and enjoying the game at a young age.
"We know that their attention spans to things can be a little bit different and if they go a couple of seasons where they're not getting opportunities and they're not having fun then they move on.
"The priority is, particularly at a young age, let them get out there and have some fun and enjoy themselves."