Former All Blacks winger Bryan Williams was elected president of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) as they announced a NZ$9.4million loss at its annual meeting in Wellington on Thursday.
Williams, 60, who played 75 games for the All Blacks in the 1970s, replaced John Sturgeon in the role after the former All Black manager's two-year tenure ended. Ian MacRae, a former All Blacks captain and teammate of Williams, was elected vice-president.
In the only contested appointment, Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chairman Richard Hunt defeated Hurricanes chairman Paul Collins 53-36 to fill the central zone's seat on the board.
Collins was recommended by the NZRU appointments and remuneration committee for election to the position but Hunt, who failed in his bid for a place on the board last year, opted to stand and his decision was justified by the vote.
Current NZRU chairman Mike Eagle was re-elected as a southern zone representative and current board member and former North Harbour Rugby Football Union chairman Gerard van Tilborg was re-elected as a north zone representative. Meanwhile, former NZRU chairman Rob Fisher was elected a life member of the union.
The NZRU announced it expected to return to profit next year after taking a body blow in its financial results. But the body repeated a call for rugby to exercise financial restraint, saying the game faced pressure at all levels which showed no sign of abating.
NZRU chairman Mike Eagle, in his address to the annual meeting, said the game faced significant financial challenges.
"Rugby faces financial pressures at every level of our game from local clubs through to the professional structures. That pressure is not going to go away any time soon. The global recession is continuing and expectations of dramatic improvement have been dashed by the recent national disasters at home and abroad," Eagle said.
The NZRU said it had distributed $18.9 million to provincial unions and franchises in 2010, up from $16.7 million in 2009. Last year it had taken over paying national provincial salaries greater than $60,000 from the provinces as well as outlaying another $1 million to unions who had players named in last year's initial All Blacks squad for the Tri-Nations.
But despite the increased assistance, unions were still living beyond their means, something NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said had to cease. "Just as we did last year, we have stated today the importance of our franchises and provincial unions living within their means," Tew said.
He told the meeting the NZRU had underwritten a $340,000 loss for the Highlanders in 2010 and had also financially supported the Chiefs. Eagle, who took over as NZRU chairman after Jock Hobbs resigned late last year due to illness, said unions could not rely on the NZRU to continue to prop them up.
"Rugby, as a sport, has been living beyond its means for too long," Eagle said. "It is incumbent on us to ensure that the rugby organisations were are responsible for do not extend themselves beyond their ability to sustain and support themselves.
"It is now urgent that all of our rugby organisations take steps to safeguard the future and ensure their sustainability by managing costs and revenue appropriately. We must also take a conservative approach to team and player costs to minimise the risk and potential damage that the current financial crises can do to our game."
Tew said the NZRU was forecasting a $10.3 million profit for 2011, banking on a $13.4 million surplus from the Rugby World Cup offset by a forecast $2.4 million operating deficit. The costs associated with hosting the World Cup made up $6.4 million of the $9.4 million loss announced on Thursday and the operating deficit of $3 million made up the rest of the loss.