Wellington’s 2019 Swindale Shield draw will shape as a real test for the union’s 14 Premier clubs as they battle for just seven places in the Jubilee Cup.
In a change to previous years, the 2019 Premier club rugby season kicks off on March 23 with home and away matches instead of the traditional Gala Day after a number of fields were unavailable due to upgrades and summer sport commitments.
In one significant change, the Upper Hutt Rams play their matches at their ‘second home’, Maoribank Park, while Maidstone Park undergoes an upgrade. Meanwhile, Avalon will hope that their newly built clubrooms will bring new success.
Reigning Swindale Shield champions Northern United will kick off their title defence against Johnsonville at Porirua Park.
Some of the main feature matches of round one will be the local derby clashes between Marist St Pats and Poneke while Wainuiomata will battle Hutt Old Boys Marist.
The anticipated repeat of the Jubilee Cup final will come in round two when Northern United host Old Boys University at Porirua Park.
WRFU Rugby Board Chairman Peter Scott believed the 2019 season had the potential to be one of the toughest ever with the Swindale Shield being played under a new format after club delegates voted to shorten the first round competition by three weeks.
“We underwent a three-month consultation process with clubs to arrive at this format,” he said.
“Firstly, it was signalled that the Mitre 10 Cup competition would begin a week earlier going forward and as such we sought club support to continue to have club finals day two weeks prior this starting.
“We then spoke to the local councils around ground availability. Unfortunately, due to summer sports still being played and ground upgrades a third March round wasn’t possible.
“We then asked clubs if they still supported a mid-week round given that ANZAC Day falls on a Thursday. This wasn’t supported so we ended up with a competition three weeks shorter than 2018.
“Further consultation was had with clubs who voted overwhelming in favour of shortening the Swindale Shield rather than making any changes in the Jubilee and Hardham Cup rounds.”
“A success of 2018 that will continue is the bye round during the Jubilee and Hardham Cup competitions. The seven/seven split introduced last year was positive and the bye round remains favoured by an overwhelming majority of clubs.”
Key changes include:
- Clubs are split into two pools based on their results at the end of 2018
- Clubs play a total of ten matches; six against the other teams in their pool as well as four crossover matches.
- Clubs will not play three other clubs in the Swindale Shield
- The crossover matches were decided by a set formula that removed the need for clubs to pick who they did/didn’t want to play. The formula makes it as equitable as possible for all clubs when playing crossover matches.
- One overall points table so clubs and fans know where their team stands in the race for the Jubilee Cup
- The season starts one week later, finishes one week earlier, and has no mid-week or double-header rounds