Ring fencing has benefits It would bring stability, says Ackermann
Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann believes that there would be clear benefits if relegation from the Premiership was scrapped.
The debate over ring-fencing has resurfaced this week after reports that Premiership clubs are pushing for a 13-team league of the current 12 clubs plus Championship leaders London Irish, although the possibility that there will be no team going down this season has been dismissed.
Ackermann experienced relegation with the Lions in Super Rugby in 2012 when he was forwards coach before taking over as head coach and leading them back into the southern hemisphere’s premier competition the following year after a promotion-relegation play-off match with the Southern Kings.
And he feels that once the possibility of relegation was taken away it helped bring stability to the environment that helped the Lions grow on and off the pitch.
“We could get no-name players but at least we could promise them Super Rugby,” Ackermann said.
“In 2013, a lot of sponsors left us. In 2014, we played with no sponsors on our jerseys.
“But when they saw we started performing with a very young group, it was not an easy sell, it was still a difficult sell to get big names on board, but it was a starting point for the marketing department and the CEO to go to businesses and say: ‘Listen, we have a young team. If you sign now with us, you can grow with us and we can promise you Super Rugby for three or four years.’
“Emirates signed a five-year deal way cheaper than any other sponsor and they got two Super Rugby finals later. There are benefits to having no relegation and you can almost plan a bit ahead.
“Any player wants to know ‘do I fit into a squad and am I going to play at the top level of the competition so it’s an easy sell if you play Super Rugby to get players.”
Ackermann felt the certainty helped him develop players and a style of play that saw the Lions reach back-to-back finals before he joined Gloucester.
“It gave us that freedom with a chance to develop stuff,” he said.
“Let’s say if a new side comes up (to the Premiership) now and they have a new squad. They would get away with it for one or two seasons to develop stuff but later on you can’t use that as an excuse.
“You have to show progress, even if you are still a young squad compared to the likes of Saracens or Exeter who have been together for a long time. It does give you, as a new coaching staff or a new squad of players, a year or two to develop.”
Gloucester are not one of the teams looking in danger of relegation this season as they sit third in the Premiership but just four points separate sixthplaced Bath and bottom club Newcastle with the prospect that a big name could drop out of the league.
Ackermann said: “Only the RFU will know what the aspirations for the clubs below (the Premiership) are.
“If it is quite clear and obvious that 13 will be the number, that nobody else has the aspirations (to come up from the Championship), then it’s probably an easy thing to do.
“It will take a lot of pressure off the bottom teams and it will maybe bring a consistency in their squads as they can settle into a squad that can be competitive going forward.
“It’s a tough thing if you’re at the bottom and you know there are only one or two small margins why you landed there.
“There’s a lot of rugby left so we just focus on ourselves and make sure we’re not in that position but whoever it’s going to be, it’s going to be a tough call to make.”