More players and more communities participating

The community game is at the heart of rugby and we are working towards getting as many New Zealanders as possible involved in our sport. Without community rugby we wouldn’t have All Blacks, Black Ferns or Māori All Blacks. However, more than that, we believe rugby strengthens communication, teamwork, and enjoyment; as well as helping to keep our communities fit, healthy and connected.


We aimed to have one coach for every 12 rugby players this year, ensuring our players are getting the best rugby experience across the country. We finished 2019 with one coach for every 13 players, which is the equivalent of 1000 coaches. It’s encouraging to get so close to our target and after receiving feedback that our approval and compliance processes are increasingly becoming too hard for new coaches, we will be reviewing this in 2020.


Without referees, we wouldn’t have a game and our goal for 2019 was to have one referee for every 38 rugby players. While we finished with one referee for every 38.2 players, this .2 represents just seven referees, resulting in us rounding the figure down. Our Be in the Game campaign continued to highlight the important role referees play, while also showcasing the comaraderie and team aspect of refereeing that is not often shown. This campaign will continue into 2020, promoting refereeing as one of the many great ways to get involved in our game.


We want as many teenagers involved in our game as possible as we believe rugby is a great way to stay fit, as well as teaching skills and behaviours that help young New Zealanders navigate what life throws at them. It was great to see our player numbers increase again in 2019, driven strongly by a continued increase in female players (11%), largely in the growth of primary school competitions and more girls playing in girls-only grades. However, it was also exciting to see teenage player numbers increase also, after a couple of years of stabilisation. We will continue our work into 2020 to ensure that rugby remains an attractive sport to the new generation, as well as providing the competitions and resources needed in the women’s game to match the growing demand.

Participation Plan

This year the Rugby Participation Framework was approved and communicated to Provincial Unions. This Framework has given us an outline for how to deliver a game that is fit for purpose and future proofed, including new offerings and player development structures that will meet all of our participants’ needs. Introducing Rip Rugby into the Small Blacks Development Model, as well as developing the Game On Policy have been an exciting way to getting more players into the game and making sure it kicks off.

While it was disappointing to not be able to implement the proposed Secondary School Rugby governance structure at the Special General Meeting in December, it has highlighted some additional approaches to better governance at this age level and we will be focusing on these in 2020 to ensure we are providing a world-leading secondary school rugby system which ensures teenagers develop a lifelong love of rugby.

Wider Auckland Rugby Facilities Plan

Auckland is home to the largest number of rugby players and we have continued to focus on ensuring that rugby thrives in the region. In 2019 we published the findings of the Wider Auckland Rugby Facilities Plan 2018-2028. This plan was accepted by Auckland Council and the Local Boards, providing a single evidence-based voice for rugby in facilities planning. Acknowledged as a sector-leading piece of work, the report is already positively influencing considerations for future facilities investment by Auckland Council.

Chinese Engagement Programme

In recognition of Auckland’s large emerging communities, our Chinese Engagement Programme trial, in its second year, aimed to have 10-15 teams playing in Auckland and North Harbour Rip Rugby competitions. We are happy to report that in 2019, we had over 10 teams taking part in these competitions, helping rugby reach more people than ever in New Zealand.

This insights programme is designed to help develop club capability to upscale to cater for growing numbers. There was positive traction within both clubs with their junior membership at around 8-10% Chinese ethnicity playing across their teams in Saturday morning competitions.