Rugby Club Rooms

Future of community clubs the focus of new rugby initiative

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the 26 Provincial Unions have today launched a new two-year initiative to strengthen community rugby clubs around the country.

The Future of Rugby Clubs project will identify the current and preferred future state of the rugby club system in New Zealand and provide a transformational plan for NZR to implement.

NZR General Manager Community Rugby Steve Lancaster said the project had been identified as a key priority to grow the sport in the long-term.

Rugby clubs are absolutely central to our game, now and into the future. We want to support them to remain relevant in their communities, be prepared for challenges and opportunities, and ultimately have a clear road-map for the next 25 to 50 years.

The project aims to provide approximately 450 junior and senior rugby clubs with strategic guidance, support, and resources to meet changing regional and local needs.

Canterbury Rugby CEO Tony Smail, who is a member of the project’s steering group, said rugby clubs are a core part of the sport’s DNA.

“We’re certainly aware that our clubs have issues around things like income streams, volunteers and participation, and we can’t ignore those.

“Where we’re really focused though is on the future and there’s a lot of positives with women and girls’ participation increasing, new versions of the game on the rise and opportunities to open our doors to more than just rugby.”

To identify the current and preferred future state of rugby clubs, the project will focus on seven key areas, including strategy, finance, environment, participation, club capability, operations, and facilities.

Whanganui Rugby CEO Bridget Belsham said increasingly diverse communities and differences between rural and urban clubs would be key considerations.

“Clubs are such a key part of our communities, and involvement in rugby can have a lot of positive influence on people’s lives. We want that to continue long into the future and it starts with understanding what our rural areas and smaller towns expect from rugby.

“Our Provincial Unions are also becoming more diverse as New Zealand changes. We all want our game and clubs to be welcoming, and that starts with meeting the needs of our emerging, Pakeha, Māori and Pasifika communities.”

Future of Rugby Clubs is part-funded by Sport New Zealand’s National Partner Strengthen and Adapt Programme and was originally set to begin in 2020, with delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lancaster confirmed that, whilst it is considered a two-year process, the rugby community would see action throughout that period.

“This is important to get right and not rush through, but we also want to make sure that clubs see the benefits as soon as possible. We’ll be looking to implement outcomes and provide support to clubs as soon as we can.”

NZR and the Provincial Unions will begin engagement with rugby clubs in July and August this year.