Yesterday’s reports of a possible breakaway league in English rugby are nothing more than an easy headline and an attempt to create a storm in a teacup.
The reality is that Premiership Rugby would be negligent if it didn’t consider every eventuality when senior figures meet for board meetings and the minutes that have been leaked from the meeting in question don’t suggest anything more than sensible contingency planning.
The quotes simply mention the need to address issues such as access to match officials and player insurance cover “if the RFU were unwilling to support change”.
That is the key point in all this because PRL currently has an eight-year agreement with the RFU that doesn’t run out until 2024. That relationship has not yet broken down and there is every chance that they will support change, there just needs to be more discussion as to what that means in practice.
The Professional Game Board, which includes the clubs and the RFU, is due to meet again later this month and there is sure to be yet more dialogue on ring-fencing. I’ve made my stance very clear on that matter and I don’t agree with it at all. However, there’s no doubt it is a major talking point at the moment.
There are 12 owners in those PRL meetings who have all been very successful in business and have very forthright opinions, so all sorts of things will be discussed and you can easily see how someone would raise the issue of what happens if the RFU chooses to fight against their favoured course of action until the bitter end.
The reality is that it will be a discussion between all of the parties involved and the minutes of a PRL board meeting don’t constitute an official plan for what they intend to do moving forwards.
At any company, anything and everything is discussed at board meetings and it doesn’t mean to say it is a serious plan that is on the agenda. The reports in the Mail are sensationalist and an attempt to sell papers and get more clicks on their website but I wouldn’t take it seriously.
All parties will be weighing up whether it could be the right thing for the game to suspend promotion and relegation for two or three years and allow teams like Cornish Pirates, Coventry, Ealing Trailfinders and others to catch up and get closer to being able to compete in the Premiership.
It only works if there is significant investment in the second tier to enable them to do so though. As I’ve said, I don’t agree with ring-fencing and, even though others feel very strongly in favour of it, I can’t see a breakaway league happening at all.
Let’s not forget that the RFU gives the clubs around £30m per year as well and they are going to want to work with them. Of course, everyone has vested interests but they all want what’s best for English rugby and will work together to achieve that.
Ian Ritchie is the perfect man to deal with this as well as he spent five years as RFU chief executive before becoming Premiership Rugby chairman. It’s very clever of Premiership Rugby to get him involved and he knows the pair have to work side by side.
The article also suggests that “any players involved in a breakaway league would not be eligible for Test selection”. That’s not going to happen because the ultimate drive for a rugby player in this country is to play for England and long may that continue.
The RPA are involved in talks as well with the players and they will want a clear pathway for them to be able to play international rugby so I just can’t see how there’s any chance of this coming to fruition and being allowed to “tear apart the English game and jeopardise the national team”.
There are obviously parallels with the foundation of the Premier League in football in 1992 but from the leaked minutes that we’ve seen I just think the issue hasn’t been reported in a fair and balanced manner by the Mail and it seems like a lot of hot air over very little.
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