Wairarapa-Bush and 11 other provincial unions will not play for the Meads and Lochore Cups in the Heartland Championship this season. PHOTO/FILE

Championship falls victim to covid-19

The 2020 Heartland Rugby Championship has fallen victim to the covid-19 crisis.

On Monday New Zealand Rugby announced the cancellation of all provincial rugby tournaments below the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup, including the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup.

Wairarapa-Bush finished fourth in the 2019 Heartland Championship, losing their semifinal to the eventual champions North Otago.

The decision is a joint one between NZR and Heartland unions.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said rugby had worked together to make these difficult decisions for the best interests of the game.

“The provincial unions have led the decision-making,” he said.

“This is a partnership and I acknowledge them for being willing to have these conversations and make tough decisions.

“It’s surreal how much this has impacted everyone in just seven days, and we’ve needed to act swiftly, decisively and together. We are united in what we want to achieve and that’s to secure the future of rugby.

“These decisions have all been about ensuring when the time comes our communities can be up and running club, community and school rugby as quickly as possible.

“It’s a blow for the Heartland Unions to lose their much-loved championships.

“Their top-level teams are the pride of their communities and it was a courageous decision by them in difficult times.

“The cancellation in 2020 will be a loss for local players and fans. It will no doubt be felt keenly by many.”

Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union chief executive Tony Hargood confirmed that the Heartland CEO’s had been in lengthy discussions since the middle of last week on several different models and opportunities around the 2020 season due to the covid-19 pandemic.

“We have all agreed at the end, our clubs and our local club competitions should be our number one priority when the pandemic has passed, and the window is closing fast on that space,” he said.

That will see the club season extended into August and September, although Hargood said that it would probably still be a shortened competition.

“When club rugby does get back under way, we’ll look for all clubs to have games at their home venues to generate their own club spirit and revenue,” he said

“We wish to thank all our stakeholders and our other Heartland provinces in understanding we are in unprecedented times and our focus at this stage is around our people, families and what is good for our community.”

Hargood is not counting out the prospect of some representative rugby being played, with a couple of options likely to be discussed.

That could include a competition involving Wai-Bush’s nearest Heartland neighbours Horowhenua-Kapiti and Wanganui, or a tournament type format involving other North Island Heartland unions, although Hargood said whatever was decided would have to be centralised and played over a two- to three-week period.

Other tournaments to be cancelled are the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under-19 Tournament and the TECT National Sevens Tournament.

Wai-Bush qualified for the national sevens for the past two year after finishing fifth in the Central Region qualifying tournaments in Levin.

The union also has a proud history of players representing the union in the Heartland team for the Jock Hobbs Memorial tournament.

Logan Hebenton-Prendeville, Adam Gordon, Sam Morison, Raniera Petersen and Stanley Wright were selected for the team in 2019.

Robinson said all the cancellations announced on Monday affect the 2020 season only, and no decisions beyond this year had been made.

He said no decisions about the Mitre 10 Cup or Farah Palmer Cup have been made at this stage either.