Rob Baxter has insisted he understands why so many clubs in the Gallagher Premiership are currently in favour of ring-fencing but the Exeter boss admitted he couldn’t be honest with himself if Exeter agreed that the top-tier should shut up shop and close off the pathway that the Chiefs took a decade ago.
It was May 2010 when Exeter earned their promotion to the Premiership, defeating Bristol in a play-off final and going on to become an annual title contender, contesting the last five finals and lifting the trophy twice, most recently in October when their success was accompanied by Heineken Champions Cup glory.
Exeter made their ascent at a time when there was no guarantee the relegated Premiership team would come straight back up. That rebound is now all too predictable, money dictating the outcome as seven of the last eight relegated clubs have come straight back up, the financially ruined London Welsh the only exception.
Newcastle were the latest club to go down and come straight back, club executive telling RugbyPass in November: “It’s a really bad game of musical chairs: twelve chairs, 13 clubs and somebody misses out – relegation doesn’t serve any sort of purpose.”
That is an opinion so many other Premiership clubs have been in agreement with is winter as they top-flight in England is struggling for cashflow amid the playing of matches behind closed doors due to the pandemic.
"The only upside to not being in the Premiership is u win a lot more but look at the crowds, they are 1/2 or even a 1/3 of what they normally are"@MickHogan2 on the truth abt the Championship, the rebuild myth & why it's time to ringfence w/@heagneyl ???https://t.co/bUlQ5X26aK
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 15, 2020
It has been said that the link between the Premiership and the Championship should end when Saracens, as is predicted, win their way back into the top-flight and that the 2021/22 season should be a 13-team tournament. However, while Baxter understands the reasoning behind the arguments of rival clubs who want ring-fencing, he insists the Premiership can’t fully close the door and put an end to lower league clubs aspiring to make it big like Exeter have done.
“I haven’t heard of any announcement or how quickly it might happen,” said Baxter at his weekly media conference when asked about discussions on Premiership ring-fencing. “Am I aware discussions are taking place? Yes. As you can see, there is plenty of chat going on about it.
“If you want to ask me do I support it? I can’t sit here and promote no promotion into the Premiership because we have fought for it for so long and it was part of everything we wanted to become. We managed to get there and we’re now enjoying the fruits of that hard work so for me to sit here now and say no, this is it, it should all get shut up shop, I just couldn’t do that and be honest with myself.
“But the flip side is do I understand why other people would say we need to do this because otherwise we might be financially struggling? I 100 per cent understand that. I’d be very naive and rather stupid to say I don’t understand clubs who start to look around and question their future.
“If ring-fencing is a way for them to feel more secure in what they have got and what their investment is, I can 100 per cent understand the argument because the financial and security arguments are there. They are real and they are true.
“Does that mean sport should not have something beyond that? It probably should. That’s not me sitting here saying whatever happens we have to maintain promotion and relegation in its current form, but I 100 per cent think we as Exeter have got to support some process of a rugby club being able to get promoted in some way.
“It was tough for us to get promoted. There were loads of hoops we had to just through around the very basic minimum operating standards you have to have in place. There aren’t many clubs that can get that in place anyway as the current rules stand so it is not me asking for something different.
“But I’d certainly want to maintain some way that a club with ambition and the drive to actually put things in place – as we had to do – would be able to achieve promotion at some stage.”
“Another incentive was cash… when you’re on 25 grand in the Championship, that [Rob Baxter's half-time bonus] becomes a big, big deal”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 26, 2020
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