Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam believes the Premiership should be an incentive laden competition, following their decision to suspend relegation.
No club will drop into the Championship at the end of this season, with England’s top-flight league comprising 13 teams next term. It is widely thought a no relegation stance could continue beyond this season.
The current regular campaign has six rounds remaining, before play-offs and a final in June. And clubs in the league’s lower reaches know their Premiership status is guaranteed, as opposed to facing a possible relegation scrap.
Bristol are 12 points clear as league leaders, but director of rugby Lam said: “My only concern at the moment is there has to be some sort of incentive to ensure teams are still going hard.
“I completely understand why there is no relegation this year because of Covid.
“Going forward, if we are not going to have it (relegation) for however long, there needs to be an incentive – whether it’s financial or whatever – to being number 11 as opposed to 12, or 10 as opposed to 11, so the competition stays strong.
“History has shown that a home semi-final is the key. If we didn’t have that as an incentive, we could relax as soon as we made the top four.
“There is an incentive for Europe – the top six – the incentive down the bottom was (avoiding) relegation, but if we are not going to have that there has to be something else, whether (that is) money that links to your finishing place. It’s over to the decision-makers.
“I don’t want us to get into a position where it’s, ‘experienced guys are leaving, so we will just play all the young guys to give them experience for next season’. To me, that devalues the competition.
Taken away relegation threat
“Historically, the threat was relegation, but if we have taken that out what is the incentive for the bottom teams? We need to ensure everyone is fighting until the end.”
Controversial plans in soccer for a breakaway European Super League have caused outrage throughout the sport.
Asked if rugby would do well to observe football’s fierce reaction to that closed shop scenario, Lam added: “My main thing is making sure that the competition has value from round one right through to the very end. For every team.
“Once it becomes less incentivised, once it gets to a situation where there is nothing to play for – for players and fans – to me it becomes devalued.
“It’s very easy to get a lot of investment initially to do it a certain way, but ultimately it is the standard of the competition, I believe, that determines the sustainability and success of it.
“You might get the big lump sum to do something, which I’ve seen in Super Rugby and PRO14, but over time if the competition is not an every-game-matters, it is not sustainable in my view.
“Even if they have a closed shop in the football, what I am seeing is that there are no consequences for being the bottom team of that really rich league.
“If relegation is gone, make sure there is a discouragement to end up on the bottom, apart from your own pride.
“I always believe the greatest gift we’ve been given in life is choice, and there are consequences of all our choices. Those consequences can be great or they can be poor.”