Southland rugby clubs suggest vaccine certificate mandate will test playing shares

Steve Mitchell, chief executive of Rugby Southland, says early feedback suggests the vaccine certificate requirement will have an impact on some teams.

Kavida Herath/Stuff

Steve Mitchell, chief executive of Rugby Southland, says early feedback suggests the vaccine certificate requirement will have an impact on some teams.

Some Southland rugby clubs are warning that the vaccine certificate requirement could stretch playing stocks this year.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has issued a guideline for all 15-a-side teen and senior community competitions to require Covid-19 vaccination certificates.

Under the Covid-19 protection framework, meetings in the red light setting, which do not use vaccination certificates, are limited to 25 people.

It meant that 15v15 matches would not be able to take place without the use of vaccination certificates.

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Rugby Southland’s general manager, Steve Mitchell, said early feedback suggested the mandate will affect some teams.

“We have already received a signal from a number of clubs that it will be quite a push to get a team up and running.”

Southland has a large number of senior rugby clubs per capita, compared to many other provinces in New Zealand. Most national clubs work with only one senior team.

Getting teams on the field had become increasingly challenging for some and there were concerns that the loss of three or four players who chose not to get vaccinated could tip some clubs.

“You lose three key players and your team is under threat. Especially in those clubs with one senior team,” said Mitchell.

“Three or four guys who live in the countryside and don’t want to touch the vaccine will endanger the field of rugby in that region.”

Many of the club officials Stuff spoke to on Friday expected to gain a better understanding of the impact in the coming weeks leading up to the start of the season in April.

However, they all expect to lose players.

Wyndham Rugby Club chairman Matt McKelvie, who confirmed he had been fully vaccinated, described the mandate as “damned ridiculous”.

He was more concerned about the mental health of people who would be cut off from sports and socializing.

McKelvie didn’t have exact numbers, but confirmed that this would affect Wyndham, and he expects many clubs to be in the same situation.

“It’s already a challenge, especially in country footy. Especially when it hits front row positions, every club struggles for front rowers.”

Collegiate Rugby Club president Callum Roderique understood the rationale behind the mandate to allow rugby to continue during an outbreak.

However, he was disappointed that some people wouldn’t play this year now.

Roderique was aware of two players who would not return this year to play for the Invercargill-based Collegiate club due to the requirement of a vaccine certificate.

Collegiate has built a strong player base over the past few seasons and Roderique was confident where they stood. However, he feared for other clubs.

“I really believe this decision will hurt some of the smaller clubs who may have had a hard time getting players before this decision was made.”

Edendale Rugby Club president John Fodie said the first senior meeting was scheduled for next week and hoped to get a better understanding by then.

Rugby Southland had already implemented a “Game On” policy, allowing matches to continue as a 12-on-12 or 13-on-13 match if clubs struggled to field 15 players.

Fodie felt this could become more common given the pressure some clubs could be under.

As well as talk of playing numbers, Mitchell was wary of the pressure the extra level of compliance had put on the rugby community volunteers.

Rugby Southland would do what it could to provide additional support, Mitchell said.

Waikaka Rugby Club president Willie Hewitson agreed it had increased the volunteer role.

“Volunteers in general are already getting damn hard to find. It’s hard enough for companies, but then you try to get volunteers to take care of things like: [vaccine certificate requirements]It is heavy.

“There are many volunteer organizations where it might end up in the basket too hard.”

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