The Board of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) have confirmed the structure of the Air New Zealand Cup for 2009 and beyond. The review decisions, made at the Board's meeting in Auckland on Saturday, are detailed in a draft Final Report which has been released to all provincial unions.

The determination of the report follows an extensive review process which included consultation with the 14 Air New Zealand Cup provincial unions, New Zealand rugby players, other rugby organisations and research and feedback from supporters and commercial partners.

The draft Final Report does not detail the provincial unions that will be invited to participate in the competition from 2009.
This will be announced once the 14 Air New Zealand Cup provincial unions have been informed.
The key decisions outlined in the Air New Zealand Cup Competitions Review report are:

Season Structure - The Air New Zealand Cup is to have a mid-August start date from 2009, which will follow the conclusion of a protected club window (normally scheduled for the last Saturday in July each year, but always three weekends prior to the commencement of the Air New Zealand Cup in mid-August). Provincial unions will not be permitted to withdraw representative players from club rugby matches until after the end of the protected club window and will only be allowed to hold three pre-season matches before the end of the protected window (provided they do not withdraw players from club rugby). The NZRU will investigate the potential to hold a National Club Finals day occurring at the end of the protected club window and including initiatives to support this concept.

Competition Structure - The new Air New Zealand Cup competition will feature:
  • 12 teams;
  • A round robin over 11 weeks with each team playing five or six home and five or six away matches;
  • Two week final series with semi-finals and a final;
  • The last-placed team in the competition will play a promotion/relegation match against the team that wins the Heartland Championship (or any equivalent competition) with the match to be played at the home venue of the team from the lower division. Further work will be carried out on whether a criteria assessment will be required for teams seeking promotion. The NZRU will commence a review of the Heartland Championship taking account of the fact that additional teams will need to be accommodated.
  • The NZRU recommends changing the Ranfurly Shield regulations to provide that after the
    holder of the Shield has successfully defended the Shield at home on four occasions, all matches played by the holder after this fourth defence, whether in that year or subsequent years and whether home or away, will become mandatory challenges with the exception of any semifinal or Final matches. Subject to the outcome of any review of the Heartland Championship the NZRU intends to recommend a change to the Ranfurly Shield regulations to provide that the winners of the previous year's Meads and Lochore Cups will automatically be granted a Shield challenge in the following year (in that order). In the event that the holder of the Ranfurly Shield is a Heartland Championship Provincial Union then the holder will be required to accept at least one pre-season challenge from an Air New Zealand Cup Provincial Union.

Competition Management Mechanisms - The NZRU Board considers that it is necessary to:
  • retain a salary cap at the Air New Zealand Cup level to encourage the spread of talent, which in turn leads to a more competitive competition, and also to manage costs;
  • reduce the current salary cap level and review the design of the salary cap; and
  • consider a limit on the number of players that each Provincial Union can contract under the Collective Employment Agreement as part of the salary cap design. The NZRU intends to perform further analysis on the salary cap level and the number of players that provincial unions should be allowed to contract. The NZRU also intends to explore the concept of Franchise contracting of Super Rugby players and if approved, how Super Rugby players would then be aligned to provincial unions for the purpose of playing in the Air New Zealand Cup. Further work will also be done on whether there is a need to restrict the demands that can be placed on players in the Air New Zealand Cup and on the NZRU's intention to reduce the number of loan players that an Air New Zealand Cup province can select in its playing 22. It is proposed that this limit be set at three players. Final determination of each of these issues will be subject to negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association regarding the Collective Employment Agreement and any requirements under the Commerce Act. Assessable Criteria The assessable criteria for the Air New Zealand Cup have been amended slightly in relation to the population criteria and the player training and development criteria.

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