Community rugby returns this weekend after a truncated campaign in 2020.
Both the men’s and women’s seasons get underway with a standout clash between two of last year’s champions in the Farmlands Baywide Men’s Club Rugby Premier division.
Last season saw Tauranga Sports, Whakarewarewa and Opotiki win their respective regional titles and the Western and Central teams will face off in a season opener at Tauranga Domain on Saturday.
Could the winner of this opening day clash be the favourites to win outright?
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union community rugby manager Pat Rae is not so sure.
“It is hard to know,” he says. “What we have done is we have put Whakarewarewa v Tauranga because it pits the two winners from last season against each other. Then we can see where they are.”
In the women’s competition there is an equally tantalising opening fixture, with last year’s finalists Rangataua and Rangiuru facing off at Te Ariki Park.
“The first round kicks off with a sure-fire battle,” says BOP women’s rugby development manager Kendra Reynolds. “In a match that includes females of all levels, from Black Ferns to first year players, these two clubs always put on a show.”
Mount Maunganui, Rotoiti, Opotiki and Waikite make up the six team Premier Women’s division.
As well as Tauranga and Whakarewarewa, Te Puna, Te Puke Sports, Greerton Marist, Mount Maunganui Sports, Rangiuru, Rangataua, Marist St Michaels, Arataki, and Ngongotaha make up the Premier Men’s division.
This campaign will be a 20-week season again. From 2022 the season will be reduced after the Covid impacted shorter 2020 season was well received by players.
Pat does not believe it will devalue the competition in anyway, highlighting the strength of the Division One and Regional leagues.
“You can still head down to your local rugby club on a Saturday and watch the best clubs in your region going hard out for 80 minutes.”
As for rugby’s importance to the community, Pat believes the sport still plays a crucial role at this level.
“It is certainly important to the community,” says Pat. “Rugby is our national sport. Without rugby a number of our smaller communities would really struggle.
“It’s a reason why some of our kids keep going to school, it is a reason why people don’t commit crimes.
“It plays a crucial part in our community.”
To see when and where your local team is playing this weekend visit the community rugby page at: www.boprugby.co.nz