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Catch me if you can . . . Albion's Mitchell Chittock (6) darts off down the field. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Eastern Southland junior rugby has had a boost with a 25% increase in teams.

There are 392 players, all aged under 11, competing in 35 teams throughout B grade, C grade, and the Rippa rugby grade.

It created a 12% increase in player numbers, with the largest change coming in B grade for 9 to 10-year-olds.

B grade had nine teams, compared with five last year, and nearly 120 players.

Eastern convener Leanne Heaps believed the New Zealand Rugby initiative to change the grade from a 15-a-side full-field competition, to a 10-a-side half-field competition played a part in gaining numbers.

“We’re ecstatic with the numbers of players and the numbers of teams,” Heaps said.

“It’s been increasing over the last four years but we’ve seen quite a lift from 2019 to 2020  – it’s great to see.”

Rippa rugby grades had 16 teams and 158 players, while C grade involved 10 teams and 115 players.

Teams from Albion, Pioneer, Edendale, Wyndham, Mataura and Waikaka were involved in the Eastern competitions and games were played at all club grounds.

There were 76 female players this season, with Pioneer and Mataura having the largest contingent at 27 and 21 players respectively.

However, Mataura had 29% female players, as the club had 72 players, compared to Pioneer’s 132 total.

It was promising to see more females getting involved in the sport, she said.

“There’s been some good campaigning by clubs to get a good number of girls.

“There’s 19% of females across all grades – we’ve encouraged more girls to get out there and they’re really enjoying it.”

It was a five-week competition. However, there was the option of a further two weeks for teams that wanted to continue.

“It’s more for fun for them to get out there.”

The season would have begun in May had it not been for Covid-19.

Eastern was involved in A grade, too. However those teams played in a Southland Country competition.

The A grade was full-field rugby for under-13s and there was an increase from three to four teams this year.