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Air New Zealand Cup
Air NZ Cup retains 14-team format
NZPA
December 11, 2009
Canterbury celebrate winning the Air New Zealand Cup, Canterbury v Wellington, Air New Zealand Cup Final, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand, November 7, 20009
Canterbury will defend their Air New Zealand Cup title in a full 14-team division © Getty Images
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After months of impassioned debate the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) has decided to stick with the status quo for the Air NZ Cup and Heartland Championship competitions for 2010.

That overturned an earlier decision to cull four of the 14 Air NZ Cup provinces and establish a first division featuring those teams plus Wanganui and Mid Canterbury.

The NZRU board announced its about face on Friday after members met in Wellington on Thursday. The four provinces widely expected to be cut - Northland, Counties-Manukau, Manawatu and Tasman - all appealed and stoutly defended their right to remain in the top flight, with some threatening legal action to protect their status.

NZRU board chairman Jock Hobbs said the threat of legal action was a factor in its decision. Hobbs said the board agreed that despite the significant amount of progress that had been made to identify and develop a 10-6-10 competition structure, the current collective employment negotiations taking place and other factors meant the proposed competition could not go ahead in 2010.

"A number of factors have changed since the board made its decisions in June and July," he said. "These include the fact that competition formats have become a fundamental part of the collective employment negotiations currently underway, the fact that we have appeals lodged by the Tasman and Counties-Manukau Rugby Unions and threatened legal action from other unions.

"All of these matters were not likely to be resolved prior to the first quarter of 2010, and with outcomes uncertain and the need to create certainty for provincial unions and teams, it was not possible to go ahead with the new format in 2010."

However, Hobbs said the union still favoured a 10-6-10 split between three competitions in 2011 and 2012.

He said this would be subject to continued negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association (NZRPA) as the NZRU sought to secure an affordable and sustainable player payment model and salary cap as key outcomes of collective bargaining.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew, a leading figure behind the push to cut Air NZ Cup team numbers, said the union was focused on finalising a new collective employment agreement with the NZRPA, which would be critical to determining the costs for the provinces and competitions in the next three years.

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