Yes, time has come to ring-fence Premier­ship

The Rugby Paper - - Letters / Views - COLIN BOAG

The Cham­pi­onship play-offs il­lus­trated per­fectly why the Premier­ship should be ring-fenced. When two of the best four teams in the Cham­pi­onship can’t be pro­moted, it shows what a sham­bles the com­pe­ti­tion has be­come. Next year it re­verts to first past the post, but that might just make things even dafter – un­likely with Bris­tol there, but imag­ine if the club that came top turned down the chance to join the Premier­ship!

Don­caster is­sued a state­ment that is damning about the state of the English game. They said their am­bi­tion is undi­min­ished but pro­mo­tion ‘is sim­ply un­af­ford­able and out of our reach in the cur­rent struc­ture and fi­nan­cial ar­range­ment for pro­fes­sional Rugby Union in Eng­land’. Ten out of ten for re­al­ism, and prob­a­bly wise un­less they fancy fol­low­ing Lon­don Welsh into obliv­ion.

Like most peo­ple I have al­ways be­lieved that rel­e­ga­tion and pro­mo­tion should be at the heart of the game, and in a perfect world that view would pre­vail, but th­ese are more trou­bled times than they ap­pear. Le­ices­ter Tigers chief ex­ec­u­tive, Si­mon Co­hen, has said that the Premier­ship’s fi­nances could ‘fall off a cliff ’ if wage bills con­tinue to climb, but it seems as though PRL col­lec­tively have their heads stuck in the sand.

When asked about the hor­ren­dous losses run up by some clubs, the at­ti­tude seems to be, so what, the ‘sugar dad­dies’ will con­tinue to un­der­write them. If that seems like an odd stance to take, then it’s be­cause they don’t really have a choice in the mat­ter. What the Premier­ship needs is for PRL to have a de­gree of in­de­pen­dence, but that isn’t go­ing to happen any­time soon. This is the own­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tion, and when they say ‘jump’, the PRL ex­ec­u­tives’ only re­sponse has to be ‘how high?’

For a Cham­pi­onship club that doesn’t have an uber-wealthy bene­fac­tor, why would they want to take the risk of ac­cept­ing pro­mo­tion, and end­ing up in a league where a few loud and wealthy voices call the shots?

There are re­al­is­ti­cally a max­i­mum of 14 English clubs that are gen­uine Premier­ship can­di­date. Bris­tol will be head and shoul­ders above ev­ery other Cham­pi­onship side next sea­son, and the like­li­hood is that the table will sim­ply look em­bar­rass­ing come next May – so what on earth is the point of rel­e­gat­ing them? Let them stay, and in­vite Lon­don Ir­ish and York­shire Carnegie to join them.

With 14 clubs we’d have 26 rounds, plus the play­offs, which would be enough to keep even the greed­i­est owner happy, and, with the An­glo-Welsh Cup con­signed to the dust­bin of his­tory, that could even be squeezed into the ex­ist­ing sched­ule!

How­ever, the cur­rent PRL plan sees the sea­son ex­tended un­til late June, and in­cludes the wor­ry­ing state­ment that, from 201920, the cup com­pe­ti­tions will be ex­panded dur­ing in­ter­na­tional pe­ri­ods.

The RPA wants a proper five-week break be­tween the end of the sea­son and the start of the fol­low­ing pre-sea­son, but they’re go­ing to have to set­tle for a fudge. It was in­ter­est­ing to hear Rob Bax­ter ex­plain­ing the facts of life: “There’s no point talk­ing about the wel­fare of play­ers who might not be pro­fes­sional play­ers in two years be­cause they’re at a club that goes bank­rupt.”

There need to be some sim­ple ac­tions put in place if things are to im­prove: PRL must in­sist that ev­ery club files a fi­nan­cial plan that will see them reach break-even; a 14-club Premier­ship should happen as soon as is fea­si­ble, with pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion dumped for at least the next five years; the An­gloWelsh Cup must go, and most im­por­tant of all, PRL must have a de­gree of in­de­pen­dence from the whims of the own­ers.

In the re­cent Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nals we had two in­stances where play­ers en­cour­aged the ref­eree to yel­low-card an op­po­nent. Mun­ster’s Billy Hol­land, and Le­in­ster’s Isa Nacewa, were the guilty men, and it’s just an­other ex­am­ple of rugby start­ing to ape foot­ball.

I’d like to see an edict handed down which makes it clear that asking for an op­po­nent to be sent off is, in it­self, a yel­low-card of­fence. It would take only one dis­missal in a high­pro­file match for this un­pleas­ant busi­ness to be stopped in its tracks.

Facts of life: Rob Bax­ter speaks sense about the state of the game

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