Zone faces rugby split


AN olive branch is likely to be offered to the rebellious southern clubs when Country Rugby Union meets with northern affiliates of Mid North Coast Zone in Coffs Harbour this Saturday.

The Old Bar Clams, Forster Dolphins and Manning River Ratz announced the formation of a 'new Mid Coast Zone' on the eve of the last semi-finals which, if ratified, leaves the current competition in a severely-weakened state.

Zone president Geoff Bell said his organisation was willing to hear the case from the disgruntled clubs, but only if their threat to withdraw was 'taken right off the table'.

"They have no right to think they hold a gun at our heads," he said.

"Dropping their threats and then sitting down to rationally discuss the matter is the only way to proceed."

This weekend's meeting is part of a CRU appraisal of boundaries across the state with another to be held in Port Macquarie on Sunday to which the southern clubs have been invited.

First attempts to break away and deliver the Mid Coast zone as a fait accompli failed miserably when CRU refused to green light the proposal.

"There was no option but to drag them into line," Bell said.

"They had no right to set up shop without proper consultation with Mid North Coast or Newcastle-Hunter but we're still willing to listen.

"In rugby, like every sport there is a right and wrong way of doing business."

Travel times and distances are at the heart of the southern complaints but Bell believes if any club is drastically at a disadvantage, it's Coffs Harbour.

"At most, in the regular season each club down below has one trip to Coffs," he said.

"On the other hand, Coffs must travel the full distance three times and this will be four trips if newly-formed Wingham Hornets participate.

"Compared to zones out west where an away trip can be 20 hours the locals have got it easy.

"I've never heard Coffs complain as they look at a trip as a bonding exercise."

Most concerning to Bell are reports the executive of the 'new' zone are willing to tinker with the basic structure of the game.

"They propose to alter the make-up of teams for one thing, and I've heard of other plans that are not only against the basis of the game but the spirit as well," he said.

"We're certainly happy to discuss their grievances and even have suggestions toward reaching a compromise.

"But the threat to set up a competition without the sanction of CRU or the affected parties has to disappear as a sign of good faith."

Asked if 'sour grapes' over the success of Coffs Rugby was the real crux of the matter, Bell declined to drawn on the suggestion.

"We'll concentrate purely on the matters at hand," he said.

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