RFU wants clubs to end acad­e­mies in favour of re­gional hubs

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Gavin Mairs The Daily Tele­graph

Premier­ship Rugby clubs are to be asked to re­place their academy sys­tem with a net­work of six “world-class re­gional hubs” as part of a rad­i­cal plan to over­haul the de­vel­op­ment path­way in Eng­land,

can re­veal. The move, hailed as “the most sig­nif­i­cant in­no­va­tion since the move to pro­fes­sion­al­ism”, is one of the foun­da­tion stones of a re­mod­elling of the Cham­pi­onship, drawn up by Ed Grif­fiths, the for­mer Sara­cens chief ex­ec­u­tive.

De­tails emerged last week of the pro­posal to re­struc­ture the Cham­pi­onship, with a rec­om­men­da­tion that the 12-team di­vi­sion be split into a north­ern and south­ern con­fer­ence, with pro­mo­tion to the Premier­ship based on agreed cri­te­ria be­tween the leagues, rather than a first-past-the-post for­mat.

How­ever, it is un­der­stood that the pro­posed new struc­ture would also see the 13 Premier­ship acad­e­mies re­placed by six re­gional cen­tres based at uni­ver­si­ties and linked to two clubs each in a re­mod­elled Cham­pi­onship.

Premier­ship clubs would then be able to se­lect the best young English tal­ent each De­cem­ber, through an Amer­i­can-style draft, who would be given three-year con­tracts.

The 76-page pro­posal fore­casts that Premier­ship clubs would save £600,000-£900,000 by clos­ing their acad­e­mies, with the Cham­pi­onship clubs meet­ing the costs of pro­vid­ing the coach­ing, strength and con­di­tion­ing and med­i­cal staff at the six hubs.

Play­ers would be guar­an­teed about 30 com­pet­i­tive games per sea­son and af­ter one year would be el­i­gi­ble for the draft sys­tem, in which each Premier­ship club would be given four picks from a pool of 60 play­ers.

Grif­fiths, who has met with Bill Sweeney, the Rugby Foot­ball Union chief ex­ec­u­tive, and Conor O’Shea, pro­fes­sional rugby di­rec­tor, is to make a for­mal pre­sen­ta­tion to the Premier­ship clubs next month af­ter a se­ries of in­for­mal dis­cus­sions.

He is also ex­plor­ing in­ter­est from broad­cast­ers, spon­sors and uni­ver­si­ties with the aim of es­tab­lish­ing the acad­e­mies by the start of the 2021 sea­son.

“This pro­posal tries to pri­mar­ily find a pur­pose and a role for a sus­tain­able Cham­pi­onship, but what it also tries to do is to har­ness all the re­sources avail­able to the game into a more stream­lined, in­te­grated path­way for younger play­ers,” Grif­fiths said.

“The plan for the new path­way, which would re­main un­der RFU con­trol, would har­ness uni­ver­si­ties’ fa­cil­i­ties in a hub that would in­clude other ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ments and cru­cially Cham­pi­onship clubs, be­cause Cham­pi­onship clubs can pro­vide game time.

“Young play­ers in this struc­ture would get world-class coach­ing in six re­gional acad­e­mies, they would get their par­al­lel ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing from uni­ver­si­ties and as­so­ci­ated ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and they would get their game time with the Cham­pi­onship clubs.”

Player wel­fare is also cen­tral to the vi­sion, which has the work­ing ti­tle “TEC – The English Cham­pi­onship”. “At some point the game is go­ing to have to get se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing play­ers,” Grif­fiths said. “This will go fur­ther on player wel­fare than any other league in the world at the mo­ment.”

Grif­fiths, backed unan­i­mously by the Cham­pi­onship clubs to ex­plore a new ar­range­ment, ac­knowl­edges, how­ever, that per­suad­ing the clubs to give up their acad­e­mies will not be an easy task. “We have not ploughed all this money into our academy to hand it over to the Cham­pi­onship,” one source said.

The es­ti­mated cost of run­ning the new Cham­pi­onship model, in­clud­ing fund­ing player salaries and the acad­e­mies, is £15.6 mil­lion in the first year. “The chal­lenge is to per­suade peo­ple to change,” Grif­fiths said. “I gen­uinely think this is a win for ev­ery­body.”

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