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'Most people probably think that 13 clubs are too many'

By PA
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter has insisted the current number of top-flight sides is having a negative impact on the Gallagher Premiership. “Most people probably think that 13 clubs are too many,” the Chiefs director of rugby said. “It’s not the right number because it creates these odd weeks with no one playing at certain times and it lengthens the season.

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“With the international calendar and the length of the season, everyone is starting to realise that there are a few too many clashes and the product is getting a little bit watered down. We’re not really in sync with the international game as we should be.”

The observation from Baxter, the Exeter director of rugby, came on Thursday after rugby in England was left reeling from a grim Wednesday when it was announced that Wasps have given notice of their intention to appoint administrators while Worcester have been set the deadline of 5pm on Monday to prove they have a credible plan for survival or face suspension from all competitions.

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Both clubs are saddled by vast debts and are the subject of winding-up orders from HMRC because of unpaid tax, while collectively all 13 Premiership sides are thought to be over £500million in the red. Bristol owner Steve Lansdown reckons that Premiership Rugby must generate more revenue after describing investing in the English club game as a black hole.

Bristol owe in excess of £50m to their billionaire owner and Lansdown admits that getting involved in the sport requires deep pockets, despite a cash injection from private equity firm CVC and low-interest loans from the Government designed to soften the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The 72-year-old insists that Premiership Rugby, who oversee the running of the only fully professional league in the country, must do more.

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“Rugby in a way is its own worst enemy,” Lansdown told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It’s a fabulous game and attracts great spectators and fans, but there’s a question of the revenue going into the business. For people to invest in it, it’s a passion. It’s not one you can point to and say you can invest in it and make a return on your money.

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“So you have to go in with your eyes open that it’s going to be a bit of a black hole for a time and that’s the difficulty. We had the funding through the pandemic but it’s in the form of loans and that’s one of the problems that certainly Worcester is faced with. When you borrow money you do have to have the ability to repay it or the ability to know that it will be converted into equity.

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