30 May 2024

Provincial Unions not scared by threats to divide NZ Rugby

3:36 pm on 30 May 2024
NZ Rugby House building 29 April 2021.

NZ Rugby offices in Wellington. Photo: Photosport

The Provincial Unions (PUs) insist they do not care if the Players' Association (NZRPA) splits from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to set up a new governance model for the professional game.

Today, the PUs rejected NZR's governance change proposal, voting instead for a second proposal, put forward by a group of Provincial Unions, including Wellington, Auckland and Canterbury.

Proposal one, which was backed by the NZR Board and essentially adopted all the recommendations from last year's independent governance review, failed to get the two thirds majority vote required, with 31 votes for and 59 against.

Dame Farah Palmer of Palmerston North, DNZM, for services to sport, particularly rugby at the Investiture Ceremony at Government House, Wellington.

Dame Farah Palmer was acting NZR board chairperson at the SGM in the absence of Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo: Photosport

Proposal two, which guarantees PU representation on the NZR Board, was accepted, getting the percent majority it needed with 69 votes for and 21 against.

Proposal two demands three of the nine directors have previous experience on a PU board.

The second proposal also removed ability of provincial unions and the Māori Rugby Board to directly appoint three directors.

It now means an appointments panel will be established to interview prospective board members.

The panel will then make recommendations to the NZR annual general meeting, with a simple majority vote required to appoint a board member.

The Players' Association (NZRPA) threatened it would walk away from New Zealand Rugby if proposal one was not accepted.

Before today's vote the NZRPA stated that it intends to form a new body, which will be established to govern the professional game if proposal two was approved instead.

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol

Rob Nichol. Photo: Photosport

Following the result, NZRPA boss Rob Nichol released a statement describing the decision not to adopt the recommendations of last year's Pilkington review as "incredibly unfortunate", but did not address the threats to break off from NZR.

"The expert panel laid out what we needed to do perfectly in their recommendations. Those recommendations got support from NZR, NZRC, Māori Rugby Board, Super Clubs, NZRPA and a good group of PUs.

"It was a great opportunity for the game to make the changes required. It's incredibly unfortunate we haven't taken that opportunity and ended up with what the experts labelled status quo or worse," the statement said.

Canterbury Rugby chairperson Peter Winchester is adamant the Provincial Unions would remain happy with their decision, even if Nichol and the NZRPA decide to walk away from NZR.

"Yeah we would.

"We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But I know that whatever happens with the professional part of the game, if they (NZRPA) do set up their own governance structure, this vote today, no one will ever say that we (PUs) got it wrong."

Though Winchester does not think the game will be divided.

"It took us by surprise when Rob Nichol and the NZRPA delivered the message that if proposal one didn't get through he was going to divide the game and take his players away.

"This is about rugby for all. It's going to be strong independent governance and I think everyone should embrace it. For the good of the game in New Zealand, people need to take off the hats from where they've been for the last nine months and get in a room and talk this out for the good of the game."

Winchester said those claiming that proposal two was a symbol of the Provincial Unions unwillingness to relinquish power are incorrect.

"I think it's quite the opposite. We agreed last November that we would embrace change. To give away over 70 years of having either direct or indirect input into how the NZR board is made up. To give that away completely and go to a completely independent recruitment process with no input from the Provincial Unions is a massive step and gave away any power we had."

The New Zealand Māori Board (NZMRB) unanimously voted for proposal one and member Arran Pene said he is disappointed the proposal they backed was not accepted.

Arran Pene, Otago v Auckland. Otago NPC, Rugby Union, 1995. PHOTOSPORT

Arran Pene, Otago v Auckland. Otago NPC, Rugby Union, 1995. PHOTOSPORT Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The former All Black said the Māori board now need to work with what has been voted for.

"It's disappointing but like a lot of things you take your kick in the rear end and you get on with things. You have your differences and debates but I think we (NZMRB) have an important role to play in terms of rugby moving forward and I hope that involves all the parties.

New Zealand Rugby and the NZR Board refused to be interviewed following the acceptance of proposal two, but did release a statement.

"The NZR Board acknowledges the decision made by the voting members at a Special General Meeting (SGM) today to pass an amendment to its constitution to make its governance structure more independent, with all appointments to be recommended by an Appointments Committee. This represents a significant change, and it is in the best interests of rugby that we move forward together.

"The NZR Board will implement this decision as quickly as possible, including the process for applications for Board positions to ensure it has the best possible mix of skills, diversity, and perspectives. We remain committed to engaging constructively with all rugby stakeholders to implement reform and provide certainty to the game.

"In the meantime, we continue to be focused on all aspects of the game, from community rugby through to our teams in black, competitions and sponsors," the statement said.

Rowena Duncum, Whanganui Rugby Board member and spokesperson for the unions behind the second proposal, said a new NZR board will be appointed as soon as practicable.

Duncum said the unions expected plenty of applications from talented professionals and she is confident everyone would commit to the democratically chosen proposal.

"The sun will rise on the games this weekend, as it always has. 150,000 people will be out on the playing fields, and the Provincial unions will continue their work, unchanged."