For the love of the game

The ARU has 20,500+ players across the men’s and women’s game, accounting for more than 13 per cent of all players within New Zealand. Photo supplied

Rugby is a game for everyone, a game for all shapes and sizes.

The latest participation figures reveal that the old adage still holds true when it comes to the Auckland Rugby Union. August 31 provided the cut-off date for registrations in rugby around the country.

The ARU has 20,500+ players across the men’s and women’s game, accounting for more than 13 per cent of all players within New Zealand. The 2017 playing numbers are on a par with 2016. This is significant, given the cyclical increase in playing numbers experienced post a Rugby World Cup year.

The evolving demographic within Auckland has seen the game of rugby change alongside it. First introduced in 2003, the game of Rippa Rugby is now an integral part of the junior rugby landscape as a pathway to the 15-a-side version of the game. More than 11,000 junior players now take part in both tackle and Rippa rugby every season. Rippa Rugby at club level begins at Under 6s before tackle is introduced at Under 8s, with the ARU providing support coaches to ensure player safety through the Tacklebox initiative.

The ARU’s junior coaching development manager Nooroa Tokahere sees Tacklebox as a crucial part of young players’ development and continuing involvement within the game. “Tacklebox is a New Zealand Rugby (NZR) initiative driven by provincial unions to ensure coaches understand the importance of the skill, how to develop the skills needed to execute the tackle safely and for players to develop the confidence needed in the contact area.”

Primary and intermediate school rugby continues to encourage participation across all regions in Auckland. More than 50 tournaments are facilitated annually by the ARU, making the game increasingly accessible.

Women’s rugby experienced growth of 10.5 per cent in 2017, on the back of a 14 per cent increase in 2016. The ARU now has more than 3000 women alone playing rugby.

New Zealand Rugby head of community rugby Brent Anderson sees recent efforts by national women’s sides as an additional catalyst to the growth experienced in this part of the game.

“The successes of both the Black Ferns and the Black Ferns Sevens – including their silver medal win in Rio – have created a real buzz in women’s rugby. We’re seeing more and more girls and women playing the game for the first time and we’re retaining them in greater numbers too.”

At secondary school level, the girls’ programme continues to go from strength-to-strength. Not only is the 15-a-side game offered, but the advent of the development grade that uses the hybrid 10s format means there is greater accessibility for those wanting to take part.

Refereeing numbers have held steady from 2016, with 183 actively officiating rugby across all levels in 2017. The administration of these games is a vital part of the rugby landscape within Auckland and helps facilitate the growth of rugby in both senior and junior grades. Former players transitioning into the ranks of the referees is fostering relationships and developing a greater understanding between officials and players.

Those coaching have also experienced growth. Over 1500 registered coaches now operate within the union, an increase of 2 per cent on 2016. Like referees, many former players are continuing to turn their hand to coaching after leaving the playing field. Retention of those that have played is beneficial to increasing the growth and quality of volunteer coaches. They continue to foster the rugby nursery of Auckland, providing the next wave of talent to grace the fields for years to come.

Rugby in Auckland is now more accessible than ever, given the opportunities provided at various levels through school, club, and representative. There are now more than 22,000 active participants within our national game. Rugby has always been a game for everyone. Those participating within the game, the 20,500+ players, 1500+ coaches, and 183 referees are a testament to this sentiment.