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The future of the Premiership should rest with 14 teams
by Andrew Bladon
There has been a lot of talk of late about removing the promotion/relegation between the Premiership and Championship and ring-fencing Bristol, Worcester and London Welsh into the top tier.
This makes a lot of sense on some main accounts.
Firstly, with the debacle of arranging the current Champions Cup format now over, this means there will always be something to play for between the bottom teams, devaluing the argument that there will be dreary games at the business end of the season – the top 12 English teams could potentially qualify for Europe, with two missing out, meaning the bottom teams will always have something to fight for, and the financial spoils that will bring.
There is a strong argument that a ring-fenced league will spark more running and creative rugby, as Super Rugby demonstrates, particularly if there are teams of equal standing vying for potential European slots through bonus points.
With the demise of the LV= Cup and consequent lack of television and media coverage there should be more space on the fixtures calendar as of next year to add the additional 4 games required. With the increased games and mandatory international windows it is inevitable that this approach will replace what the LV= Cup endeavoured to achieve in developing young players.
A league of 14 professional top tier sides in England can amplify the bank of professional players that the national side can select, not to mention the increased TV and sponsorship revenue that expanding England’s 3rd most watched sports league will bring.
Increasing to 14 mirrors the league size to that of its French counterpart, which is another step in tightening the competitiveness between the national leagues.
Of course the flagship success story, and caveat to the argument, will be that of Exeter; a modern day success story that built a team from the ground up and are now competing for silverware in the top flight. A combination of good management, the ability to keep hold of academy players and strong grass root connections developed Exeter in a top tier side. However, given the RFU’s underwhelming financial commitment to the Championship it’s hard to see this will be replicated by another club.
Finally, as we saw in 2012 with the debacle over London Welsh’s promotional and financial constraints, the RFU and PRL’s criteria means that promotion/relegation isn’t an open market affair and is currently restricted to just 14 sides anyway.
Giving clubs like Worcester, Bristol and London Welsh the ability to build a squad rather than regularly lose academy players and force a manic spending spree upon promotion will allow them to develop in a way the financial constraints of promotion/relegation do not.
PRL have enough restrictions already in place to stop the majority of Championship sides getting promoted – why not just allow those that can (and deserve to) be ring-fenced England’s premier rugby tournament and give them the security to build a better league for everyone.