Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster Knights both fail the Minimum Standards Criteria audit, so no Championship team will join England's top flight for the 2022-23 season
No promotion to the 2022-23 Premiership
No team will be promoted to the Gallagher Premiership at the end of this season. Doncaster Knights and Ealing Trailfinders were the only Championship clubs pursuing the opportunity to go up, but both have failed the Minimum Standards Criteria.
Doncaster have said they will appeal the RFU decision through an independent arbitration process, adding that the ruling has left them “disappointed, dismayed and disheartened”.
The Minimum Standards Criteria exist to ensure Premiership clubs and promoted clubs have suitable facilities for players and spectators. Each club and its nominated ground undergo an independent audit to assess compliance with the Minimum Standards Criteria.
One of the requirements is that the stadium must hold a minimum of 10,001 fans; this is to ensure the ground falls under the remit of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, regulated by the Government, and the Green Guide.
Ealing don’t currently have a licensed capacity but the ground holds approximately 5,000, with 2,115 seats. Doncaster Knights have a capacity of around 5,183 with 1,926 seats.
As a result, the independent audit found that neither club successfully met the Minimum Standards Criteria based on capacity (as well as other factors). The Professional Game Board therefore recommended to the RFU Board that neither club could be promoted to the Premiership for the 2022-23 season. The RFU Board has ratified this decision.
Both clubs have suggested they could seek to expand their facilities, but no formal planning permissions are in place for this to happen.
Neither Doncaster nor Ealing proposed ground-share arrangements in their applications, something that has attracted what appears to be criticism from the governing body.
Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s chief executive, said: “The RFU and PRL (Premiership Rugby) would welcome a Championship club being promoted to create a 14-team Premiership league.
“In the past, clubs with home grounds that wouldn’t meet the Minimum Standards Criteria have nominated other grounds, under a ground-share agreement, to provide a bridge between a club developing its own facilities to provide safe, compliant participation in the Premiership.
“The RFU and PRL would like to support and encourage all Championship clubs to continue to develop proposals for the expansion and development of their grounds, including submitting formal planning applications.”
The Covid recovery measures agreed last year had allowed for the Premiership to be expanded to 14 clubs next season, but this decision means it will remain a 13-club league, necessitating bye weekends, for 2022-23 – unless Doncaster win their appeal.
Doncaster said in a statement: “Within the audit process, the only failure by the club is to, currently, not be able to demonstrate a capacity crowd of 10,001 at the club’s ground, Castle Park. All other aspects of the audit are in order and Castle Park has, on a number of occasions, demonstrated its proficiency in hosting significant events via both women’s and under-20 international matches.
“At this stage, the board have every confidence that the required capacity could be delivered for season 2022-23, with a stand-by ground now available should unexpected delays occur.”
Unless the RFU’s decision is overturned, there will be 11 teams in the Championship, so only the winner of National One will go up to the Championship for next season. Caldy, Rosslyn Park and Sale FC, the current top three in National One, are separated by only two points.
Neither Doncaster nor Ealing are by any means assured of winning this season’s Championship, with Cornish Pirates poised to go top of the table if they win games in hand. But what had looked like being an exciting run-in has now lost its appeal.
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