Premiership Rugby could be set to pull up the draw bridge and ring-fence the league next season, according to reports.
The Rugby Paper reported yesterday that relegation could be scrapped for this season, with one team being promoted from the RFU Championship – Saracens being the hot favourites to bounce back up.
The ring-fencing argument in English rugby has been a talking point for years, with cash-strapped clubs terrified of taking the financial blow of a season in the Championship. With the RFU drastically cutting funding to English rugby’s second flight and with no crowds at stadiums thanks to Covid-19, the prospect of the drop has become even more invidious.
For many of England’s privately run clubs, a drop to the Championship could now represent an existential threat in the context of the financial disaster that was 2020.
The Guardian have suggested the Premiership Rugby could take a leaf from their French cousins’ book and include 14 teams in a new ring-fenced league. Ealing Trailfinders’ victory over an admittedly below strength Saracens in the Trailfinders Challenge Cup over the weekend has only strengthened the case for their inclusion in the top flight.
The club, who went professional just seven years ago, have arguably the strongest case for inclusion in a 14 man league, with former Premiership sides Leeds Tykes now relegated to National League 1 and London Welsh no longer operating as a professional club after facing liquidation in 2017.
If Ealing were promoted alongside Saracens, Cornish Pirates might feel most aggrieved of the remaining chasing pack. They finished third in the league last season and have publically stated their ambitions to make it into English rugby’s top flight.
Not all of the Gallagher Premiership’s clubs are in complete agreement on ring-fencing the competition. English champions Exeter Chiefs are the biggest advertisement for what can be achieved on the back of promotion to the Premiership, having made the jump in 2009 with the backing of businessman Tony Rowe.
“I haven’t heard of any announcement or how quickly it might happen,” said Exeter Chiefs head of rugby Rob Baxter last week 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. “
Premiership Rugby politely declined to comment when RugbyPass requested one on the weekend’s reports.
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