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RFU statement: 14-team Championship agreed in principle for 2025/26

By Liam Heagney
Coventry's Patrick Pellegrini goes on the attack (Photo by John Coles)

Rugby administrators in England have agreed in principle that the 2025/26 Championship should consist of 14 clubs, two more than will compete in the 2024/25 second tier.

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Promoted Chinnor will join the current 11 clubs in next season’s league but the decision on how the Championship would jump to 14 the year after – be it the revival of fallen clubs such as Wasps or the promotion of more teams from National One – won’t be taken until the next meeting in June.

A statement read: “The RFU council approved the principle that tier two will comprise 14 clubs for season 2025/26. Between the April and June council meetings further modelling around 12, 14, and 16 club league structures, balancing commercial and performance with player welfare, will take place.

Video Spacer

Patrick Pellegrini on going from the Championship to playing for Tonga

Coventry’s Patrick Pellegrini explains what it was like to suddenly jump into a test rugby environment, with some big names around him.

Video Spacer

Patrick Pellegrini on going from the Championship to playing for Tonga

Coventry’s Patrick Pellegrini explains what it was like to suddenly jump into a test rugby environment, with some big names around him.

The precise mechanism for the selection of additional clubs will be worked on and presented at the June council meeting.

“Whilst a 14-team structure is preferable at this stage, a 16-team option is considered to be an aspirational goal for the league’s growth and development, and additional work is required to assess the future optimum number. Further recommendations will be brought to the June council meeting.

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“Season 2024/25 will be a Championship of 12 clubs, comprising the 11 existing Championship clubs and the winner of National One (Chinnor RFC).

“Council approved a process for existing Championship clubs to validate and evidence their ability to meet the ‘essential’ minimum operating standards, and other matters, in order to participate in the new tier two league, which will ultimately be decided by the tier two management board.

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“Championship clubs, and Chinnor RFC, winner of National One, will be communicated with around the process for self-validation and provision of additional evidence.

“Discussions around promotion and relegation to/from the Premiership are ongoing as part of the Professional Game Partnership, which would require council approval and will be brought to the June meeting.”

The statement also explained how the management of the ruling tier two board will be structured. “The composition of a tier two management board will be three representatives from each of the RFU and Championship clubs committee with an independent chair.

“The objective for the board is to create a body with independent, club and RFU representation responsible for decision-making for certain decisions relating to the league, giving it the ability to respond to the new tier two specific context.

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“It will also streamline the interactions with the delivery functions and club representations to ensure the optimal running and commercialisation of the league. The tier two management board will be put in place at the earliest opportunity.”

The RFU council further agreed on “revised and enhanced” minimum operating standards. “Aligned to the growth ambitions for the league, the standards have been divided into three categories:

  • Essential – Standards that must be in place by the start of the 2025/26 season in order to participate in the league;
  • Phased essential – Standards will be introduced to the league as determined by the tier two management board;
  • Aspirational – Standards linking to those for the Premiership, providing clubs seeking promotion with a benchmark to work towards.”

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Jon 22 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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