A radical move that would only allow the current top four to bid for the title has been put forward to complete the suspended Gallagher Premiership season. RugbyPass understands that Premiership Rugby have been asked to consider the option of splitting the league into three different sections once the green light has been given for matches to resume following the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The argument put forward would have Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints and Bristol Bears competing in semi-final playoffs to establish who would reach the showpiece final at Twickenham.
Below that quartet, Wasps, Bath, Harlequins and London Irish would then battle it out for the remaining Heineken Champions Cup qualification places, leaving Gloucester, Worcester, Leicester and Saracens to play a series of games that are little more than old fashioned friendlies.
This formula will not find favour with the clubs in mid-table where only nine points separate fourth place from ninth. Wasps are in fifth just outside the playoff spots, only trailing fourth-placed Northampton by two points with nine rounds of the regular season still to be played.
League officials still believe there is time to finish all nine rounds of the league by playing twice a week in July, ruling out the need for bringing in an amended option to determine the 2019/20 champions and the 2020/21 European qualifiers.
However, a leading Premiership club official told RugbyPass: “One argument that has been put forward is that as we know who has been relegated from the Premiership this season (Saracens), why don’t the top four play off for the final as usual, then the middle four compete for the other European qualifying places and the bottom four play against each other to generate some revenue when we are allowed to start playing matches again?
“No one is going to be happy in these unprecedented times but all options need to be looked at.”
Another variable in the equation is the arrival at clubs of players that have already signed for the 2020/21 season. Those deals come into play on July 1, meaning the players who are moving can play out the remainder of the current season with their new teams.
For instance, third place Bristol are bringing in world-class talent – including Fiji’s Semi Radradra from Bordeaux and England prop Kyle Sinckler from Harlequins – while second-placed Sale have signed centre Sam Hill from Exeter who currently lead the Premiership table.
It appears that an attempt to reduce the £7million wage cap – plus two marquee players who do not count – will not gain the support needed to bring it into play. At least three teams are unhappy with that idea.
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