Auckland's school principals have agreed that next year, all players, coaches and management who feature in the city's prestigious 1A First XV competition will need to be double vaccinated to be eligible.
The decision to enforce a no jab, no play policy was reached unanimously, with all 12 principals agreeing that by creating the mandate, they would be setting a strong example for other codes to follow.
While the 1A competition is run by College Sport, it is also subject to an additional, voluntary code of conduct that was introduced in late 2018 as a means to deter schools from actively recruiting students to bolster their playing ranks.
All 12 schools are signatories and when the idea was put forward that compulsory vaccinations should be added to the code for next year, there was unanimous agreement to update the document.
A statement released by the 1A principals, says: "All principals of the 12 secondary schools who compete in the Auckland 1A First XV competition, have decided that from 2022, all players, coaches and management in 1A must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
"All principals agree to ensure this agreement is adhered to and will be responsible for confirming all listed players and management meet this requirement."
Kelston Boys' High School principal Adeline Blair, who has been nominated to speak on behalf of the 1A schools, says the decision was relatively easy to make because all participants in next year's competition have had clear feedback from their respective parents and pupils that they want to be playing in a safe environment.
As a contact sport, where participants sweat and breathe heavily and with certain facets of the game meaning players can often find themselves buried under a mass of bodies, rugby's ability to spread Covid-19 is high.
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All the participants will be older than 12 and eligible to be vaccinated and Blair says she is confident her school community will support the move and see it as another critical component of the game's health and safety framework.
The principals were also unanimous in their belief that they had an obligation to show strong leadership on vaccinations and make an early, bold decision to provide clarity to pupils, coaches and parents and to potentially pave the way for other codes and governing bodies to follow suit.
The mandate will only apply to the 1A competition, but Blair says she would expect College Sport to be considering whether this vaccination requirement could be extended to all levels of secondary school rugby and indeed other sporting codes.
"College Sport is a sensible institution and I would imagine they will make a sensible decision," said Blair. "How much more influence the 1A schools can have, I don't know."
All schools have been asked by the Government to keep a register of pupils' vaccination status and on the basis of having this information, the no jab, no play requirement in 1A should, says Blair, be relatively easy to manage and enforce.
Blair says she doesn't believe it would be legally justifiable for individual schools to set a policy of demanding anyone representing the institution in any sport to be double vaccinated.
She, and other principals spoken to by the Herald, are confident that vaccination rates among Auckland students are already high with two of the city's DHB's having already achieved a 90 per cent rate of first doses and Counties not so far behind on 88 per cent.