The Highlanders will rely solely on local players in the Super 14 from next year in a bold move away from the New Zealand Rugby Union draft system.
Chief executive Russell Gray said today the move, was in the long-term best interests of the three unions which make up the franchise, Otago, Southland and North Otago.
The Highlanders have relied on the draft in the 11 years of Super rugby and this year had 6 players from the initial draft.
‘The Highlanders board decided in 2004 that the long-term aim should be to choose solely from within our region and that time has now come,’ Gray said. ‘A number of factors come into play and paramount among them is the need to give players who commit to our provinces a clear pathway to the higher level of Super 14.
‘It is considered the move may also engender greater crowd support because people will more readily identify with players from the region rather than with draft players who are here for just a few months.’
While the commitment now will be to pick local players, there will be one exception.
‘It’s the New Zealand union that pays Super Rugby players and while we are driven by looking after our own interests, we also have to work in the best interests of New Zealand rugby,’ he said. ‘Accordingly, if the New Zealand selectors ask us to choose a specific player for a specific reason, it would be foolish of us not to do so.’