Yes, time has come to ring-fence Premiership
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