Former All Black Aaron Mauger wants to see the NPC rugby competition played alongside Super Rugby.
Non-selected super players each week play NPC rugby which would provide more opportunities for club players to connect NPC teams to people from their own region.
“How good would that be, with proper curtain-raisers of absolute quality. The main benefit would be for club rugby then to be played alongside the international windows at the back end of the year,” he says.
“This means any player not selected for the All Blacks can play club rugby. This will inject great energy and excitement back into the heart of the game in Aotearoa.
“It also gives an opportunity for club competitions toward the end of the year and club players are being rewarded at the end of the season to prepare for either super or NPC over the summer and into the new year.”
Mauger says swapping the NPC season and the local club seasons will re-invigorate the passion for both formats. New Zealand needs club rugby and NPC rugby to be strong and inspire future generations.
“I’m not sure if we are achieving that at the moment especially now as other sports are gaining more traction and providing alternative and attractive options for our young budding Kiwi sports people.
“I love NPC rugby. I always did as a young fan, a player, a coach and continued support of my home province Canterbury. I believe the NPC has an important role to play in out rugby and the development of our players, coaches and administrators.”
NPC Rugby has been a diminishing product for the last 15 years, the rugby is still strong enough to some degree but it has been weakened by many of New Zealand’s best players the level below Super Rugby moving off-shore to pursue other playing or lifestyle opportunities.
This in turn has had a huge impact on the interest in the NPC competition from the rugby community around the country which is reflected in the declining numbers seen at games. There has to be a paradigm shift to re-invent the competition before it dies a slow and painful death.
Moving the NPC programme alongside Super Rugby will create a different buzz of excitement around both the NPC and Super Rugby competitions.
This structure would better accommodate the playing needs of the players who are not getting selected in their Super Rugby Squads each week as they would be able to transition back into their NPC squads later in the week to prepare and play at a higher level than local club rugby at this time.
Mauger says the new format would be welcomed by Super Rugby coaches and players who often decide that a controlled conditioning session would be of more benefit to a player than some club rugby games.
“The best 200 players in the country would be playing good quality rugby for the first five to six months of the season and that culminates in an exciting playoffs scenario for both competitions come June.
“Club rugby would become stronger than has been in decades as the All Blacks, the All Blacks XV or Maori All Blacks would be the only men’s representative teams playing past July.
“This will result in more quality being re-injected back into the club teams around the country for the whole club season. High calibre players back to grass roots, passing on their knowledge, growing the game and connecting with the future of the game from their local clubs as that is the start of the All Blacks production line and has until recently been the best rugby.
“Academy club structures, such as my two junior clubs Lyttelton and Linwood, is where it all starts for future Canterbury and All Black players. But we are losing these kids from the game. The numbers are dropping because we are losing connection with them through the current climate and competing sports capturing their attention.
“The end of the club season could finish with a national top 4 competition similar to the 1st XV Schools, imagine that: the Southern Magpies (Dunedin club champions this year) v Marist Albion (Christchurch Club champions) facing off in a South Island final to progress through to meet the top three North Island teams. That would be just magic for the game.
“At that stage of the year, both Super Rugby coaches and NPC coaches are getting ready to name their squads for the following season starting with pre-season schedules before competitions begin in unison the following February.”