Jones singling out Dolly should make RFU sit up and take notice - Andy Goode
Eddie Jones’ singling out of Nic Dolly for praise this week should make the RFU sit up and take notice about the plight of English rugby’s second tier. We all know how many players have benefited from cutting their teeth in the Championship but to have the England head coach heaping special praise on someone who was playing for Coventry eight months ago should attract some attention to what’s happening with the league.
Central funding to the Championship has dropped drastically from £670,000 per club in 2017 to £150,000 now (£80,000 from the RFU and £70,000 from the Premiership) and clubs were only allowed loans rather than grants in order to survive the pandemic.
It’s a complex issue, of course, but the fact that Dolly can go from playing against Doncaster to mixing it with the Springboks in under a year shines a light on the value of the league and the RFU has to do more to support it.
The landscape in French rugby is different but the PRO D2 clubs receive over a million euros a year in TV revenue alone. The odd Championship game used to be shown on Sky as part of the deal to show England’s autumn fixtures but that ended a few years ago and hasn’t been replaced.
A broadcaster isn’t just going to come in now and pay big bucks to show Ampthill v Hartpury or the like but the RFU needs to nurture the league so that one day in the not too distant future a decent TV deal might be on the cards.
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Crucially, the pathway for clubs to be promoted needs to be there in the long term as well. We know that isn’t the case next season but the play-off between the sides finishing bottom of the Premiership and top of the Championship in 2023/24 should make a difference.
That only works, though, if the clubs in the second tier are supported to an extent where they’re able to not only compete in that play-off but also compete off the field and reach the standards required to play in the Premiership.
In the event that some clubs don’t want to be promoted in the short term, or don’t feel they’re in a position to be, they still need to be supported and affiliated to a Premiership club in order to provide a pathway for players and ensure that the competition is viable.
Dolly has just beaten the world champions and played in front of a crowd of 82,000 at Twickenham but the RFU have decimated the funding for the very teams that kept him going while he was striving for an opportunity to make it big.
He had loan spells at Rotherham and Jersey before being cut by Sale and then rebuilt his career at Coventry until Leicester plucked him from obscurity earlier this year. As a young player, you’re going to learn far more in the Championship than you will in the Premiership Rugby Cup, with some of the scorelines we’ve seen in that of late, or any academy league.
Plus, Jones has been talking a lot about players remaining grounded recently and is the kind of coach who loves a bit of tenacity, grit and hard work, all qualities that are generally hallmarks of players who have served their time in the English second tier.
The Dolly story shows the RFU can’t just focus on the England team and the Premiership, it needs to get back to properly backing the Championship and clubs a bit lower down the pyramid as well.
Whether it’s unearthing a diamond in the rough or providing a place for young stars of the future to earn their stripes in a hard-nosed league, the Championship serves a hugely valuable purpose in English rugby and it’s high time the RFU gave it some support.
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