D-Day: NZ Rugby’s special general meeting in layman's terms and what might happen next

1:09 pm on 29 May 2024
NZ Rugby House building, Molesworth Street.

NZ Rugby House building, Molesworth Street. Photo: Elias Rodriguez/Photosport

Analysis - Thursday is going to be a big day on Molesworth Street in Wellington. Down the bottom end, the coalition government's first Budget is being delivered. But a couple of hours earlier, just up through the intersection past the National Archives, there will be another announcement at NZ Rugby House.

A special general meeting has been called in which the members of the national union will vote on how the game will be run for the foreseeable future.

Will it mark the end of the long, acrimonious dispute the game seems to be having with itself?

The short answer is 'hopefully' - but there's no guarantee. Like the Budget, it is a complicated announcement that anyone who is not a complete nerd wants boiled down to a few key bullet points about how it relates to them:

What's happening on Thursday?

NZR's delegates will vote on adopting one of two proposals. Proposal One recommends fully adopting the findings of last year's The Pilkington Report. Proposal Two has been put forward by a group of provincial unions (PUs), it recommends adopting some of The Pilkington Report's findings, but not all. The Pilkington Report was originally set in motion by the NZ Rugby Players Association (RPA).

What's this really about?

The Pilkington Report's finding essentially recommended a loosening of provincial union (PU) grip on NZR governance. Proposal One, which is backed by the RPA, recommends that happening. Unsurprisingly, the PUs are not too keen on that and their Proposal Two comes down to them retaining their three automatic seats on the NZR board. So, it is pretty easy to see Proposal One as being for change and Proposal Two as being for maintaining the status quo.

Why is the RPA so invested in this?

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol Photo: Photosport

The RPA released a strong statement last night about their position on the game, saying: We believe we need to rediscover what we stand for, and how we will move this game forward together. That will require us all to be open, honest, and vulnerable in addressing the issues, open to change.

Which sounds fair enough, but the main criticism of the RPA getting involved in these matters is that it only represents a small part of the rugby community - and those players are also the ones who benefit the most financially. However, there are some definite positives in a potential realignment of the professional game so that elite level players have a larger pool of money to draw on. If nothing else, it will make it easier to keep them in New Zealand and eligible for the All Blacks, which is turning into a pretty big issue this season.

How does the voting process work?

This is probably the hardest part of the process to understand. Instead of simply voting on one proposal or the other, the NZR delegates vote on whether they support Proposal One, then go and twiddle their thumbs for an hour and a half and come back and vote on whether they support Proposal Two. Which seems like a weird way to do it.

Which one is going to win out?

Nick Grigg of Hawke’s Bay runs during the NPC Final at Yarrow Stadium.

Nick Grigg of Hawke’s Bay runs during the NPC Final at Yarrow Stadium. Photo: Photosport

Given the PUs feel as though they have a lot to lose here, some of them feel it is a 'turkeys voting for Christmas' kind of situation. Canterbury, Wellington, North Habour, Auckland, Hawke's Bay and Bay of Plenty are leading the bloc for Proposal Two, which is funny because it will be the first time anything harmonious has happened between Wellington and Hawke's Bay on or off the field in a long time. If their influence on the other PUs is strong enough, it will see Proposal Two go through.

It is worth remembering that many PU balance sheets are in the best positions they have ever been following last year's post Silver Lake transaction capital distribution. Some very much are not though, and it is also worth remembering the Silver Lake money was a one-off payment.

David Pilkington, author of the original report, made his prediction: "The votes are apportioned across the provincial unions based on how many affiliated teams they have, and therefore the bigger unions have a bigger say in the final outcome - and it is those bigger unions that have signalled that they don't want change, they want to preserve the status quo."

What happens then?

The RPA last week said it would break away from NZR and found its own governing body if Proposal One was not voted in. This is not unprecedented, in France the Ligue Nationale de Rugby runs the game alongside the FFR. Whatever happens, it will not affect the upcoming All Black season or domestic rugby competitions. What it would mean is that we would be back to square one in terms of this narrative, though.