NZRU seek to help stricken Otago
The New Zealand Rugby Union is to step in after the Otago Rugby Union announced it would go into liquidation this week.
The Dunedin-based union will cease trading on Friday with debts of NZ dollars 2.35million (£1.24million), but the NZRU are keen to preserve the future of one of the country's strongest provinces, which has produced 156 All Black players in their 131-year history.
The future of the Highlanders Super 15 franchise, home to several All Blacks including Andrew Hore and Jimmy Cowan, as well as England's James Haskell, will be unaffected as the team is run as a separate legal entity.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said steps needed to be taken to maintain the game's infrastructure in the region.
"We are stepping in to support community rugby and all the amateur players, volunteers, administrators and others who have a stake in the game," he said in a statement.
"Otago has a long and proud rugby history and the union has played a vital role in the rugby community for 131 years, so this is a sad day."
NZRU will appoint local officials to operate community rugby and hold talks with local clubs to keep them sustainable.
Tew added: "In addition, we will be immediately assessing the viability of entering an ITM Cup team from the region in the 2012 competition. This will need to be self-funding beyond the normal NZRU contribution if any plan is to be viable. We will be urgently discussing this with players and potential sponsors to see if we can achieve this.
"It is important to also stress that today's events do not impact on the Highlanders franchise which operates as a separate legal entity. Unlike ITM Cup players, Investec Super Rugby players are contracted by the NZRU and not by a union."
However, the union said Otago's debts were too large to enable it to offer a bailout.