Zealand's premier domestic rugby championship will be reduced to a 10-team affair with two divisions operating below it.

The New Zealand Rugby Union announced the changes on Saturday after meeting with the provinces in Wellington.

The new format could be introduced as early as next year but is more likely to get the green light in 2011.

The new structure will see the Premier Division, Division One competition and a Heartland Championship operating.

It means four teams from the current Air New Zealand Cup are facing the axe.

Candidates would appear to be the financially troubled Counties-Manukau, Tasman, Manawatu and Northland.

The NZRU board agreed that the decision is subject to the development of a Division One competition that is meaningful, sustainable, attractive and aspirational.

The board also resolved to adopt the competition principles previously developed at a Provincial Union workshop last month.

The key principles agreed at that time were that the competitions must:

Include Super Rugby players;

Have a stand-alone window (which also recognises the windows for club rugby and Super Rugby);

Feature a full round-robin and playoffs;

Have promotion-relegation;

Guarantee four or five home games per team;

Be completed within a 10-12 week window; and

Be concluded by the end of October.

The decision, taken at Friday's NZRU Board meeting, was announced and discussed at the Provincial Union and Franchise workshop today in Wellington attended by all 26 provincial unions, Super 14 franchises and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association.

NZRU CEO Steve Tew said the task now "is to develop the detail that will underpin this structure and a deliver a meaningful competition below the Premier Division and its relationship with the Heartland Championship. This will include further analysis of a variety of options that were discussed today.

"We will be moving as fast as we can to secure that so that all of our provincial unions, players, partners and supporters can have some certainty about the future of their teams and their competitions and it's possible that these competitions could be implemented as soon as 2010."