All clubs can have a crack at premier club rugby next year in a new format confirmed by the Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union this week.
Wai-Bush executive officer Tony Hargood said the new format follows a Council of Clubs review of the 2022 and 2023 seasons post-covid, and recognises that the landscape of club rugby is continually changing and the need to be proactive in the approach to how rugby is delivered in the region.
Since 2014, the premier championship has been limited to eight teams and was played over two full rounds plus playoffs until 2020, when covid forced a rejigging of the competitions. In recent seasons, the competition has started with a split first round, either town and country or north and south, for the Lane Penn Cup, followed by a full round of matches plus semifinals and finals for the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup.
Clubs outside the top eight wanting to play in the premier championship would have to first win the senior reserve championship and then beat the bottom-placed premier club in a promotion-relegation game at the end of the season.
That is gone, and all 12 clubs will have the opportunity to enter into one full round of games. The probability, though, is that the first round will comprise nine teams, with Masterton Red Star the only club from senior reserve likely to step up into the top division.
The teams will play a full round of games starting the first week after Easter 2024. The competition will then split into a top five, who will play another full round to determine the semi-finalists to contest the ‘Moose’ Kapene Cup. The teams ranked six and lower will play off in a second-division competition.
There will be no promotion-relegation games from 2024, as all clubs can again enter into the round-robin competition in 2025.
The final format, draw, and dates will be determined once clubs have confirmed their entry by March 4, 2024.
Hargood also confirmed that Reece Robinson will continue as the head coach of the Copthorne Wairarapa Bush Heartland team for 2024 after an improved season in his first season in the role.
Wai-Bush finished sixth in the round-robin competition with a four-win, four-loss record and earned a Lochore Cup home semifinal against West Coast. The team were defeated 33–27, and West Coast went on to win their first national trophy, beating Poverty Bay 23–20 in the final.
Hargood said the detailed review between the coaching team, the union and the players identified a good culture with a clear message from all, a willingness to learn from 2023 and work towards higher honours in 2024.
“With the majority of the squad returning in 2024, Reece is excited, along with the coaching team, to build on the strong platform from 2023.”
NZ Rugby –
Women in Governance
Wai-Bush board member Robyn Cherry-Campbell is one of 49 women selected for the NZ Rugby Women in Rugby Governance and Mentorship Programme 2024.
Hargood said the growth in women’s rugby and sport has increased substantially over the last few years, and Wai-Bush and other Heartland unions have been at the forefront of creating an environment that delivers the best for women and girls as the game increases in popularity.
Cherry-Campbell was appointed to the Wai-Bush board as an independent director in 2021.
Wai–Bush has been well-served at a governance level by a number of talented women over the last few years, including current deputy chair and chair of audit and risk, Sharon Parker, and former independent directors Rebecca Schofield, Vicky Lee and Andrea Jackson.
Junior Rugby Manager
Wai-Bush are on the search for a new women’s and junior rugby manager after the resignation of Scott Collins, who is leaving the region early next year to return to Auckland with his wife, Summar, and young daughter, Mackenzie.
In the two years Collins has been with the union, he has been instrumental in the formation of the union’s first women’s only club, Wairarapa Wahine Toa, the inaugural North Island Heartland women’s rugby competition, foundations for women’s under 16 and 18 rugby programmes, plus a junior rugby competition that has brimmed with excitement, including the junior rugby carnival days which attract upwards of 1000 people.