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English rugby restructure on cards

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Major restructure of English rugby to be debated - reports

The owners of the Gallagher Premiership clubs are meeting today to discuss the £275m offer from CVC Capital Partners for a controlling stake in the competition, but that is not all that is on the agenda.

According to a report in the Guardian today by Rob Kitson, a number of other issues are on the slate to be debated, including a reduced Champions Cup and a Ryder Cup-style competition between the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere clubs.

One suggestion is that the 20-team Champions Cup, which had previously been reduced from the 24-team Heineken Cup, be further reduced to a 16-team competition, thereby offering high-profile and elite matches in each round of the competition. In this structure, the top five teams from the Premiership, Top 14 and Guinness PRO14 would qualify for the competition each year, in addition to the previous season’s Challenge Cup winner.

Another change which has been suggested is to have the top sides in Europe and the southern hemisphere meet in June – which will, unless northern hemisphere club seasons delay their season start, be a free month after 2019, due to World Rugby’s restructuring of the season – to decide which are the best club sides in the world.

According to the Guardian, it would be a 13-fixture event, with the first hemisphere to seven wins declared the overall winner.

Of course, that will only add fixtures to the already congested calendar, something which Premiership clubs reportedly believe can be solved by clubs fielding squads of 60 players or larger moving forward. This is seen as a way of making the Premiership Shield a more competitive tournament and increasing its profile, whilst also allowing for greater squad rotation in other competitions.

Part of the goal of making the Shield more competitive is to increase the exposure the competition gets by hosting the games in parallel with the senior Premiership fixtures. For example, any weekend that a Premiership side is playing away from home in the flagship competition, their reserve side will play at home in the Shield.

The Premiership owners seem to be going all-in on the newly rebranded Shield competition and the prospect of it becoming the official second tier to the Premiership is also being considered.

The proposal being discussed is that the 12 Premiership reserve sides, plus London Irish and the best-finishing non-promoted side from the Championship, which last season would have been Ealing Trailfinders, contest a 14-team second tier competition. If Irish or Ealing were to finish top of the pile, they would be promoted to the Premiership, but if one of the reserve sides were to emerge as champions, no side would be relegated from the Premiership that season.

At the bottom of this new second tier competition, there would be a playoff with the winner of the Championship, with the winner of the playoff spending the next season in this reimagined Shield competition.

These proposals may never see the light of day, but they illustrate well the ambition of the Premiership clubs to create a profitable and sustainable future for themselves, although many will argue that this could well come at the expense of the England national team and the lower tiers of English rugby.

It is clear that it is not just the takeover bid from CVC being discussed today that could have significant repercussions for English rugby moving forward.

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Major restructure of English rugby to be debated - reports