Drastic Changes To New Zealand Schoolboy Rugby Proposed For 2021


After a biannual review by the New Zealand Secondary School Sports Council and submissions from interested parties, two changes are proposed for schoolboy rugby. One cannot fault the proposal to reduce recruited players to a maximum of 4 players, however, the plan to reduce the maximum age from u/19 to u/18 in order to allow u/15 boys to play 1stXV rugby is simply put madness. 

The following changes were proposed for Rugby which should be approved by September 2020 for implementation in 2021. 

The maximum of new boys (recruited) that will be able to represent their school in a game is set to be reduced from 5 students to 4 students. The board noted that the NZSRU submission indicated its commitment to reducing the negative impact of “recruitment on our game”, was supported by NZRugby and also reflected other school competitions who already adopted a quota of 4 during 2020. 

Schoolboy Rugby To Exclude u/19 players. A submission from NZSRU strongly supported by NZ Rugby proposed that players must be aged Under 18 years on January 1 in order to represent their respective schools. 

At present, School Sport NZ eligibility criteria allow for up to two players aged Under 19 in a team’s squad and the submission seeks the removal of this dispensation. The move towards an exclusively Under 18 Championship is to implement the requirements of the NZ Rugby policy on Age Bands for Rugby, introduced at the beginning of 2020 with an aim of safeguarding player safety. 

NZ Rugby’s desire is to ensure player safety, but also mindful of retaining as many players that can play as possible. Noting that there are a small number of 18 years olds (U19) playing rugby in secondary schools (less than 20), the wish is to recategorize these U19 competitions as U18 to enable 15-year-olds to legitimately play and 14-year-olds to be involved with screening and dispensation given we have many more of this age group in open grades (more than 300). 

There were only 2 x U19 players in the 24 teams that made up the 2019 regional championship qualifiers for 1stXV and Co-ed divisions. By way of contrast 109 x 15 year old’s would have required screening and dispensation and 17 x 14 year old’s would have been unable to play. 

The board also noted that some regional 1stXV competitions, including Auckland Premier and UC Championship (Crusaders region), already restrict players to U18. The NZSS team selection criteria are also U18 only. NZ Rugby also notes that Provincial Unions and NZRugby now have established U19 provincial and national pathways and competitions available for these players. 

Under current dispensations available for PU/local competitions, U19 players could still play in the local competitions right through to local finals, under the agreed dispensation protocols. In the event that a team with a U19 player did win its local competition and head to Top 4 qualifiers, they would only miss 3 games (the Top 4 qualifier and the Top 4 semi/final). 

An allowance would be made for these U19 Secondary school players to be considered for PU U19 national tournament (which currently is not available to any Secondary School players)