From Rugby World reader, Will Carpenter

In any sport, promotion and relegation creates an exciting finale to the season, but in terms of top flight rugby in England, how beneficial is this concept?

The threat of relegation must give nightmares to the majority of club chairman and owners, who know that the drop into the Championship could be an incredibly damaging one. Not only damaging financially, but a crushing blow to the whole infrastructure of a club.

So is it time to do away with relegation and ring-fence the Aviva Premiership?

I believe that it is. The introduction of a system that mimics the Celtic and Super rugby leagues would provide clubs with a safety net, allowing them to develop all areas of their set-up. Clubs would be able to develop home-grown talent and therefore rely less on expensive foreign imports. Younger players could then be given time to settle into elite level rugby, allowing coaches to start a rebuilding process if necessary, without the threat of sliding into freefall. By relying less on imports (that can often set a club back large sums of money), clubs would also benefit financially. If a squad is made up of players that have climbed their way through the academy set up, it isn’t only the club that is benefiting; it is English rugby in general. Added to this the fact that the academies are fully funded by the RFU, it is most certainly a win-win situation.

But this isn’t the only way that English rugby would benefit. If relegation was eliminated, this would deplete the importance of ‘winning at all costs.’ I’m not saying clubs would be completely unbothered by losing, but it would generate a freedom in the way the game is played. At the moment, teams are happy to settle with winning penalty shoot-outs, so to put it. By reducing the emphasis of winning in order to survive, which is the case for clubs like Leeds, Newcastle etc, you would be encouraging sides to play more expansive, attacking rugby. This would make the game far more exciting, thus attracting more supporters, thus bringing in more money.

Some would argue that this would take away the ambition and motivation of clubs in the Championship, but in truth, only a small handful of these clubs have the correct facilities and foundations to allow them entry into the top league anyway.

In order for us not to disadvantage the clubs that do have the necessary requirements, I propose a fifteen team Premiership. The Championship promotion spot is regularly competed for by the same teams, year in, year out. By removing the stronger sides from the league, you are also making the Championship more competitive.

If fifteen teams makes the fixture list too busy, then why not only play each side once; arranging the fixtures around international games. This would then level out the playing field for sides with a high number of international players, who are evidently deprived when the Six Nations is on.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this proposal, which certainly isn’t a new one and has been discussed for a while now.

  • Kevin Higginson

    I think ring fencing for 3 years is a great idea and lets start with 14 teams playing as I proposed earlier, it would mean 18 matches + play-offs. This would also allow those teams in the championship (also extended to 14 playing the same system), to create the right business case to be promoted.
    My starting 14 would be
    Exeter
    Bath
    Gloucester
    Worcester
    Bristol
    Saracens
    Irish
    Wasps
    Quins
    Northampton
    Leeds
    Leicester
    Sale
    Newcastle

    Maybe after the first period of 3 years, there maybe a reason to expand to the 15 teams and have a system like super rugby.

    Also, EPS players should be exempt from the salary cap as long as they have been at the club for more than 5 years, (to stop mega rich from buying the best EPS players on big wages), all other players are part of the salary cap. This would encourage clubs to develop English players so they are exempt from salary cap.

  • Realist

    ring fencing would ruin rugby- I’ve never been a fan of the system in the Magners League and the club structure in England I think needs little changing. My solution to the threat of relegation would be to make it a humiliating but ultimately not club-killing event- the RFU should invest substantially into making the lower leagues, like in football, more high profile- this would also spread the game’s influence. This would allow clubs to fall into the Championship to let a burgeoning club break through, but still offer them the position to be financially secure.
    On another note, I also like the idea of playing games away from Twickers- its a great place to watch rugby but rugby needs to be spreading its gospel- we’ve been to Old Trafford- perhaps next up could be Anfield?

  • Col

    I agree with the ring fenced Premiership but with a review every three years. This has worked brilliantly in RL Super League. Teams are given a 3 year licence with at least 1 team being relegated possilbe 2-3 teams (so the nottingham’s can still get promoted). This would not be based just on on field but on off field things like the ground, attendance, financials, youth development.

    I also think expanding to 15 teams is the way forward. You could also change the format to copy Super Rugby with 3 conference (North/Central, South West & South East). Play each team in conference twice & everyone else once, giving a total of 18 games. OK you lose two home games but you gain stability & can make up games through cup games, also less league games during international periods. 6 teams would make the playoffs.

  • Ant

    Sadly English geography (lots of clubs in a relatively small and densely populated country) will never allow for an exclusive premiership and why should it. If the threat of relegation cannot improve your rugby then nothing will. Clubs or cities such as Nottingham, which would presumably fall out of your ring fenced league, will never have a premiership representative despite having great facilities.

    Regarding foreign players, ring fencing never leads to local development. Look at the football premiership. Teams at the top of the league in no danger of relegation constantly bring in foreign players.

    The problem lies in marketing rugby. It is still exclusive. Internationals are played only at Twickers while in the Southern Hemisphere Test matches are spread thoughout the countries’ different cities. To get people to fill the club stadiums the masses have to experience top flight rugby at home and not have to slog all the way to London, which only the converted will do.

    On another marketing point, I have watched the highlights of all the weekends Super 15 matches on the Super 15 website for free but on the Premiership’s website, nothing, unless you are prepared to pay.

  • Kevin Higginson

    A ring-fenced premiership is the first step in improving the standards in the NH. The second is to set the season up so no rugby followers have a structure to follow, (playing competitions in blocks).
    Also, this way the best players could be selected for HC teams.
    My suggestion would be to have 14 teams in the premiership that would be responsible for a whole region.
    It would be: –
    1.Northern Counties (Northumbria, Durham, Cumbria – based in Newcastle)
    2.Lancashire (Sale – I know not offical in Lancs but would represent North west)
    3.Yorkshire (Leeds)
    4.Mid Anglia (East Mids, Bucks, Oxon, Herts – based in Northampton)
    5.East Anglia (Eastern Counties, Essex – based in Olympic Park Stratford – Saracens??)
    6.West Mercia (North Mids, Warks – Worcester)
    7.North Mercia (Notts, Lincs & Derby, Staffordshire – Nottingham)
    8.South Mercia (Leics – Leicester)
    9.North Wessex (Gloucesetershire – Gloucester)
    10.Wessex (Somerset, Hants, Dorset/Wilts, Devon, Berkshire – Exeter)
    11.Cornwall (Cornwall – Cornish Pirates)
    12.Metropolitan London (Middlesex – Harlequins)
    13.Southern Counties (Sussex, Surrey – ??)
    14. Kent (Kent – ???)
    There would be 2 groups of 7 equal conferences
    stage 1 Home and away in groups (12 matches) played over 1st part of season including over the autumn internationals.
    Stage 2 – a) top 3 from each group into super 6 home and away against teams not already played (6 matches)
    b) rest into 2 groups of 4 play home and away in group (6 matches)
    played Jan to 6N
    Break for 6N
    top 6 placed in ranked order plus group winners from section b into play-offs (one match higher ranked at home)(3 weeks)
    This would leave a 10-12 week period to play the HC, before going off to play Sh tours.

  • John Halliwell

    I must admit I’m thoroughly unconvinced. Ring fencing a league only seems to work when you have franchises, and doesn’t take into account the ebb and flow of clubs over a number of years. It’s the nature of professional sport that clubs will rise and fall.

    I accept that there are only a few clubs in the Championship that have the facilities to achieve Premiership status but if you take away the possibility of promotion then you prevent these clubs from aspiring to top tier status in the long term. Look at a club like London Scottish. One of the old powerhouses of English rugby that sufferred a spectacular fall from grace, but is now top of National League One, and ambitious to continue on that upward trajectory. Or look at how much Exeter have brought to the Premiership. These same arguments in support of ring fencing were being articulated 5 years ago, and if we had acted on those arguments Exeter would still be a Championship club.

  • Nick

    Great read! but would this not mean that a lot of the young talents would only join the premiership clubs? and so preventing championship clubs from improving…