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Former All Black pledges support for Otago Rugby Union

Published: 10:11AM Wednesday February 29, 2012 Source: ONE News

Otago great Laurie Mains, who played for and later coached the All Blacks, has pledged a large sum of money to save the Otago Rugby Union.

The union announced at a Dunedin press conference on Monday night that it was buried in $2.2 million of debt and will stop trading on Friday.

It is now relying on community spirit to raise more than $500,000 to field an Otago ITM cup team in 2012, but even if the money is found, the cost of playing at Forsyth Barr Stadium could rule it out as a home base.

Former Otago coach Mains is teaming up with philanthropist Eion Edgar to promote the project to the Otago business community.

He said that if they are going to save the team it cannot be a "one year wonder".

The show of support follows hints from former All Black Marc Ellis that he could help the union.

Ellis will not directly say what he will do, but he has been in discussions over the situation.

He has lived in Auckland for many years but is strongly associated with Otago, where he started playing in 1991 at the age of 20.

He says he is not the only person with strong emotional ties to the union, and who would want to do their bit to help out.

Japanese beverage giant Asahi made a $129.3 million offer for Kiwi juice company Charlies, with co-founder Ellis reportedly raking in just over $18 million from the deal.

Sevens popularity hurts regional rugby

A number of rugby unions are under threat as the popularity of the regional game in New Zealand drops, a sports management expert says.

"There are a number of clubs that are financially at risk at the moment. It's not an easy time and sport is not immune to that," Dr Andy Martin, Massey University Associate Professor in Sports Management said.

"They need to look at their product, cricket's changed, we've now got 20/20, but how much has rugby changed?"

He told TV ONE's Breakfast people are moving away from the Super 15 product and are looking at things like the Sevens, which are more engaging and fun.

"We're seeing better products, the recent Sevens is an example where you have got a very successful product - it's more than just rugby. And I think one of the things now is that consumers are making different decisions.

"It's more fun to go to the Sevens than it is to go to an Otago game."

He said another issue is the inflated salaries of players.

"I think one of the difficulties in a business sense is that income isn't meeting expenditure and clearly one of the biggest expenditures is salaries.

"Part of the reason that the salaries are high is that when we started with Super 15 the product was on a high. The product is maybe not such a high profile product now."

Guidance needed

Former All Black Josh Kronfeld says he is concerned about the fate of other rugby unions in New Zealand.

Kronfeld, who played for Otago in the early 1990s, said he thinks there are a lot of clubs heading for a similar fate.

"They are managing to cover their debt, but each year they incur a little bit more and they get further along, I guess like Otago has found themselves in," Kronfeld told TV ONE's Close Up last night.

Kronfeld said the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) should be offering guidance so other unions do not end up in the same position as Otago.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told TV ONE's Breakfast yesterday that despite there being a lot of hurt in the community, the NZRU will not be intervening.

- With Newstalk ZB