Rugby: Heartland Championship, other competitions axed for 2020

New Zealand's Heartland Championship has been scrapped for the 2020 season.

The decision to cancel this year's competition was led by the Heartland unions, wholeheartedly endorsed by NZ Rugby, as it tries to reduce the financial damage from the suspended Super Rugby season.

Contested by the second tier of NZ provinces, the grassroots institution is just one of a number of leagues affected.

The sport's national governing body announced that all competitions below Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup would be axed, which also included the Jock Hobbs Memorial National U19 tournament, the national sevens tournament and all provincial union representative rugby tournaments.

Those cancellations amount to an overall saving of $20 million for NZR, said chief executive Mark Robinson.

The organisation combined with the unions to make what Robinson described as "difficult decisions for the best interests of the game".

"We've worked together and the provincial unions have led the decision-making," he said. 

"This is a partnership, and I acknowledge them for being willing to have these conversations and make tough decisions.

"It's surreal how much this has impacted everyone in just seven days, and we’ve needed to act swiftly, decisively and together. We are united in what we want to achieve and that’s to secure the future of rugby. 

"These decisions have all been about ensuring, when the time comes, our communities can be up and running club, community and school rugby as quickly as possible."

Ngati Porou East Coast CEO Cushla Tangaere-Manuel said the decisions were based on the greater good for rugby.

"While we are very disappointed that these tournaments won’t happen this year, we want rugby to keep thriving long after lockdown is lifted and our communities are safe to play our game.

"Our three priorities in Heartland regions are our people, our clubs, then representative rugby, including the Heartland Championship.

"We understand these are the aspirational teams in our unions, but we’re confident making these decisions now will safeguard our game."

More to come