September 22 - 2008 Tasman Shield Saga

The Tasman RFU was formed in 2006 by the amalgamation of the Marlborough and Nelson Bays unions. Lansdowne Park, Blenheim was listed as the new union’s main ground. But by 2008 some serious problems were emerging, as the following entries from the 2009 Rugby Almanack’s “Chronicle of Events” (covering the 2008 season) demonstrate:

Sept. 22. In the eventuality of Tasman defeating Wellington to take the Ranfurly Shield this weekend in the final challenge of the year, and Tasman then disbanding, Steve Tew says the most logical idea is for Nelson Bays and Marlborough to play-off to see who will hold the Shield at the start of 2009.”

Serious stuff. Earlier entries in the “Chronicle of Events” clarify the problem:

April 30. Tasman announce an operating profit of $67,377 but an overall loss of $549,208 due to costs developing Lansdowne Park to meet NZRU specifications.”

June 12. Tasman inform the Marlborough sub-union of the need to sell the majority of Lansdowne Park to pay off current liabilities of $3.8 million. Two offers from a private developer have come in for four ($3) or five ($3.2 million) of the six grounds at the park. The NZRU has also offered a 12 month $500,000 interest free loan to help them through 2008.”

June 24. At a special general meeting of the Tasman RU to sell the majority of Lansdowne Park to a private developer, the Marlborough District Council steps in with a $3.45 million offer to buy the park from Tasman and offer it back to them at a peppercorn rental. The meeting agrees to accept the Council’s offer.”

July 9. Counties Manukau and Tasman are granted dispensation to play some day Air New Zealand Cup games at Growers Stadium and Trafalgar Park respectively, but night matches at both venues are still ruled out.”

August 1-2. A loan of $250,000 is offered to Tasman to help them through to the end of the season.”

August 11. Tasman decline the $250,000 loan from the NZRU due to the terms of repayment…. Northland and Tasman are confirmed as the two teams that will drop out of the Premier Division for the next year in the draft final report. The NZRU will honour contractual payments to those players in these two teams who have contracts past this year.”

August 27. The NZRU give a $340,000 handout to Tasman to enable them to pay their players for the rest of the season.

September 22. As above.

September 25. Tasman, Northland and the NZ Maori Rugby Board all make separate one-hour presentations to the NZRU Board over the Air NZ Cup Review”.

September 26. The NZRU Board concludes their two day meeting and Northland and Tasman will both stay in the Air NZ Cup. Both unions will have to present to the NZRU a satisfactory financial plan for 2009…… Tasman will reclassify the $340,000 handout to them last month as a loan and repay it, a strategy Tasman offered in their submission. The NZRU also advise Tasman that Marlborough and Nelson Bays must stay together for Tasman to continue.”

September 30. At a meeting between the Tasman and the Marlborough sub-union, Max Spence resigns as Tasman Chairman, but will stay on the Board, in a conciliatory gesture to mend the rift with Marlborough. Marlborough give Tasman until the end of October to present a viable business plan going forward.

October 16. Tasman announce their entire Board will resign at their AGM in March. This hopefully will allow the union to make a fresh start for all the shareholders.”

October 30. Tasman present next year’s budget to the Marlborough and Nelson clubs which currently shows a $640,000 loss. A decision is taken to give Tasman another six weeks to finalise the budget.”

December 11. Northland are confirmed as a participant in the 2009 Air NZ Cup after meeting all conditions asked of them, however Tasman are given only six days, to the 17th, to address the $234,000 shortfall (after the handout above) still in their budget for next year.”

December 17. Tasman is confirmed in next year’s Air New Zealand Cup after four benefactors, including the Crusaders, had agreed to underwrite the budget deficit should Tasman be unable to raise the money.”

A Happy Ending, for Tasman have since 2009 been a successful union. The above though does demonstrate that running a premiership union comes with problems and pitfalls.