Saracens owner Nigel Wray today insisted there will be an end to relegation from the Gallagher Premiership but accepted it cannot happen this season.
It is the most contentious issue in the English game and there is growing support for a ring fenced 13 team Premiership with London Irish joining the current 12-team league.
However Nigel Melville, the Rugby Football Union’s interim CEO while a replacement for the departing Steve Brown is chosen, today confirmed the Premiership club cannot ring fence the top flight this season leaving major clubs like Leicester, Bath and Northampton in the battle to avoid the drop, the fate that London Irish suffered at the end of last season.
Wray, who has been funding Saracens for more than 20 years said: “There will be no relegation, but I would be surprised if it happened in the short term. It will come because the economic argument is so powerful and the gap is becoming so huge between the Premiership and the Championship. Ealing and Jersey have done really well but they don’t have a crowd and it has taken us 25 years to do that!
“If you are an investor you do not want relegation and we understand the counter argument but let’s remember the Six Nations doesn’t have relegation so clearly the Unions don’t like it. “
Relegation to the Championship results in a cut in central funding of around £2m which has serious implications for players and staff. Discussions are continuing over the future shape of the Premiership with support for a 13 team league, but any change cannot happen for more than a year. The Premiership Cup would be sacrificed to make room for more Premiership fixtures for an expanded competition.
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Melville said: “The Premiership will have relegation at the end of the season because there has to be a year’s notice given for any change to the regulations and if there was such a move the soonest it could be instigated would be the end of the following season. We haven’t been given any proposal for change to the current regulations. The Championship clubs would be involved in any discussions involving a change to the current regulations.”
Just four points separate bottom club Newcastle from sixth placed Bath with Bristol, Leicester, Worcester, Northampton and Sale all in danger of the drop after nine rounds of Premiership matches. There is now a break for European matches but the concerns over top flight status will continue to dominate discussion amongst the Premiership clubs.
Irish currently lead the Championship by four points from Ealing Trailfinders and the ability for teams to move up the leagues has been one of the key elements in English rugby, but with a lucrative £240m deal from CVC for a 25 per cent stake in the Premiership about to be agreed, the stakes have never been higher for the 12 teams at the very pinnacle of the game in England. “CVC have not made any stipulation about ring fencing the Premiership: “added Wray.
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