‘It’s wrong... it puts a brake on per­sonal am­bi­tion and the club’s am­bi­tion’


Warwickshire Telegraph - - RUGBY UNION - By BOBBY BRIDGE

SCRAP­PING rel­e­ga­tion from the Gal­lagher Premier­ship is ‘en­tirely the wrong so­lu­tion’ ac­cord­ing to Coven­try Rugby chair­man Jon Sharp.

The de­bate over ring-fenc­ing the elite level of English Rugby in­ten­si­fied with the Daily Mail re­cently re­port­ing that Premier­ship clubs are con­sid­er­ing form­ing a breakaway league free from the RFU if changes are not made.

New­cas­tle Fal­cons, who fin­ished third last sea­son to qual­ify for the Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup, cur­rently prop up the di­vi­sion with the likes of Worces­ter War­riors, Northamp­ton Saints and Bris­tol Bears all in a bat­tle for sur­vival just be­hind a pow­er­house clutch of clubs in­clud­ing Wasps, Le­ices­ter Tigers and Bath.

With rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship bring­ing with it a ‘cat­a­strophic’ drop in venue, the cur­rent ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the Gal­lagher Premier­ship has in­ten­si­fied calls to end the loom­ing threat for its 12 par­tic­i­pants.

“I think it’s wrong from the self­ish point of view from Coven­try Rugby,” said Sharp, who has been chair­man at his home­town club since 2012.

“I also think it’s wrong as a life­long rugby sup­porter.”

He added: “It puts a brake on per­sonal am­bi­tion and the club’s am­bi­tion. There’s at least five or six clubs in the Cham­pi­onship who have am­bi­tions to go up into the Premier­ship. I think am­bi­tion is what it is all about.

“One of the PRL (Premier­ship Rugby Lim­ited) ar­gu­ments is the fa­cil­i­ties at some of these clubs aren’t good enough. The in­fra­struc­ture isn’t good enough, but if they had a bit more money, they would be!”

Coven­try Rugby, af­ter a nine-year spell in Na­tional League One, achieved pro­mo­tion in 2018 and have made the one of the best starts for a newly-promoted club into the Cham­pi­onship at the sea­son for many sea­son.

Boast­ing the third-best av­er­age at­ten­dance in the di­vi­sion and a re­turn of four wins and a draw from their games so far, Cov are fast es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as a force in tier two rugby, lay­ing the foun­da­tions to progress in fu­ture sea­sons.

While acutely aware of the vast dif­fer­ence in the de­mands re­quired to make the next step, Sharp stressed clubs like Coven­try should be masters of their own des­tiny.

“I don’t want to be barred from go­ing to the Premier­ship be­cause of some ex­ter­nal edit,” he said. “I’d like to have the choice if we are do­ing well enough, both from a player and in­fra­struc­ture point of view and a rev­enue point of view, to be able to say, ‘let’s make the de­ci­sion lads.’

“Are we strong enough to go for it and win the Cham­pi­onship and get promoted? Or shall we stay where we are, fi­nan­cial and other rea­sons.

“There’s lots of clubs ex­pand­ing fa­cil­i­ties and putting money in, why should they be pro­hib­ited from get­ting promoted by some sort of ex­ter­nal edit. Five or six clubs have pub­licly de­clared they’re am­bi­tious to go up into the Premier­ship and are spend­ing money.”

He added: “There’s a lot of clubs in the Cham­pi­onship are spend­ing a lot of money on their in­fra­struc­ture. “For ex­am­ple, Cor­nish Pi­rates are quite clearly am­bi­tious to go into the Premier­ship and they are build­ing a new sta­dium in Truro.

“At York­shire Carnegie, a new stand has been built there and new ter­rific fa­cil­i­ties. They share their ground with Leeds Rhi­nos who are the English cham­pi­ons so the fa­cil­i­ties they have are su­perb. Eal­ing Trail­find­ers are very am­bi­tious and they are talk­ing about a move to a new ground. Clubs like Coven­try are spend­ing money on site devel­op­ment, all with long-term aims.”

Sharp, who next week joins up with the other 11 chair­men of Cham­pi­onship clubs for a meet­ing at Twick­en­ham with act­ing RFU CEO Nigel Melville, be­lieves the route to bridg­ing the gap be­tween the Cham­pi­onship and the Premier­ship starts by look­ing from the bot­tom up­wards.

“There is too big a gap be­tween the fi­nan­cial sup­port they re­ceive in the Premier­ship and what they would get in the Cham­pi­onship, and there­fore rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship is cat­a­strophic,” said Sharp.

“The Premier­ship clubs last year lost £30mil­lion. I think they’re try­ing to solve this ex­actly the wrong way around. Yes there is a mas­sive dif­fer­ence in the fund­ing re­ceived from the RFU alone, let alone any­thing com­ing now from CVC (pri­vate in­vestors who re­cently bought a stake of Premier­ship Rugby).

“We get from the RFU £620,000 by abid­ing by cer­tain terms and con­di­tions. Premier­ship clubs get up to £6mil­lion. I be­lieve the gap be­tween the two needs to be closed.

“But I think that should be closed by re­duc­ing the amount given to the PRL by prob­a­bly 30 per cent and that 30 per cent be dis­trib­uted amongst Cham­pi­onship level and per­haps the Na­tional Leagues as well.

“This money needs to drib­ble all the way down and im­prove rugby across the grade.”

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