Kiwi player development booming

The number of people playing rugby in New Zealand over this last year has increased by two percent, which indicates that the top side in the world should become even stronger in future.

Due to an abundance of quality players, All Black coach Graham Henry was able to employ a dual-squad system in 2006 and ensure his men don’t burn out. With a steady increase in numbers, the expanded player base should produce even greater All Black teams in years to come.

A recent survey shows a two percent rise in New Zealanders playing rugby in 2006, with this year’s total of 141 241 surpassing that of 2005, which was 137 961. The increase is due to more children, teenagers and women taking up the sport.

NZRU Community Rugby Manager Brent Anderson explained the reason for the rise, with initiatives started in 2004 beginning to pay dividends. A total of 66,570 Under 13 boys and girls take part in the game each weekend, a four percent growth on the 2005 figure of 64,146, and a 23 percent jump since 2003. There has also been a 16 percent increase in registered players in that three-year period.

“The introduction of the Community Rugby Plan in 2004 is one of the reasons behind the rise but our clubs and Provincial Unions must be credited for their support of community rugby initiatives,” Anderson said.

“The Small Blacks programme, which is a rugby development model aimed at coaches and young players, continues to be popular. The programme has guidelines on how the game is to be played at each age for children from Year 2 to Year 7. Parents are provided with a copy of the development model to help them follow the rugby progress of their children,” he explained.

The 13-19 age group has also escalated from 33,835 in 2005 to 34,299 this year, with an overall rise of 15 percent since 2003. Besides the NZ$685 000 being pumped into the game at NZ and provincial age group level, a significantly larger portion is spent on development in schools.

“Retaining players in this age group is one of the challenges for us and we have invested NZ$3 million in the last three years to support the administration of rugby in secondary schools across the country which has seen 300 part-time positions created.

“We have also allocated a further NZ$1.4 million to the club liaison officers’ scheme aimed at helping clubs to become administratively strong and building links with secondary schools so that players leaving the school environment have a club to go to,” Anderson added.

While men’s rugby continues to hold priority in the popularity stakes, the interest in women’s rugby has been building steadily, with 10,578 players in 2005 climbing to 10,815 this year, and an overall increase of 41 percent since 2003.

“The Black Ferns are the world’s leading national women’s team and we hope that their proven success on the international stage will help encourage more women to take up the game,” Anderson said.