'We were already going to be facing Saracens with our hands tied behind our backs - now they have tied our legs as well'
Yorkshire Carnegie boss Phil Davies believes the Rugby Football Union’s controversial decision to drastically slash funding for the second-tier Championship could damage the heart and soul of the game in England.
The fears of the 2019 Namibian World Cup coach are echoed by former Wales out-half Paul Turner, the head coach at Ampthill who were promoted to the Championship this season. He claims the loss of funds was “a bolt out of the blue that will have a devastating impact on every area of our club”.
Ampthill will face relegated Saracens next season, whose fall from grace will be softened by a parachute payment from Premiership Rugby worth millions. That makes the loss of Championship funding even harder for Turner to bear. “We were already going to be facing Saracens with our hands tied behind our backs – now they have tied our legs as well,” he said.
The RFU’s decision has been branded by one club chairman as “deplorable”. The dozen Championship clubs had been able to split £8million in funding from the RFU this season, but they will now only have £4.3m to share out next season. Premiership Rugby (PRL) have also cut their financial support from £1.7m to £850,000 and will stop any cash injection for the 2021/22 season.
Championship clubs are now urgently examining what measures will be needed due to the drop in funds, but hundreds of job losses on and off the pitch are a likely result.
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Davies’ recent experiences with Namibia means he knows all about the battle for cash to help develop pay players. He said: “I assume that at the moment the Championship is viewed as the second-tier of professional rugby in England but I don’t know if that is going to be the case moving forward.
“Will people now see it is as the top end of the community game? What Ampthill have done is amazing and is similar to the move up the leagues we did years ago at Leeds.
“Doncaster have created fantastic facilities while Nottingham is a club of great history and it’s important to recognise this because it is the heart and soul of the game. I’m here in Yorkshire, England’s biggest rugby playing county, and progress is being made.
Huge blow for second-tier rugby in England
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 12, 2020
“It is key to have competitive league structures so that players can gain experience in that kind of arena and while A team rugby can be as near in style as anything in the Premiership, it doesn’t match up to a really competitive league structure.
“In Wales, the Premiership is a great place to identify the next generation of players, referees and coaches and engage supporters. You have to create a pathway for the next Owen Farrell and George Ford and decide if you want the community game to thrive or the elite game. There are many things to take into account – not just money and high performance.”
Ampthill have close links with Saracens, Leicester and Northampton with players being loaned to the Championship club to gain valuable experience. England internationals Ben Earl and Nick Isiekwe have worn the Ampthill colours in recent seasons and the club will have five Premiership loan players in their squad to face London Scottish this weekend.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 26, 2020
“This month is when a lot of guys from the Premiership are looking for matches,” added Turner. “We are giving them the rugby time they cannot get at their clubs. The timing of all of this is poor. Why couldn’t they have given us twelve months’ notice? Are we bottom of the professional leagues or top of the community leagues?”
There are real concerns that the A team league for the Premiership clubs will now become the focal point for RFU support rather than the Championship which will also see its sponsorship deal with Greene King finish at the end of the season.
According to former Harlequins CEO Mark Evans, prioritising the A league is the wrong emphasis. He tweeted: “Wasteful financially and ineffective in development terms. Reserve grade football simply does not work and leads to bloated squads, huge number of cancellations and lack of opportunities for individual players.”
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