Championship clubs rage after ‘savage cut’ from RFU

Date published: February 13 2020

Championship clubs have told the Rugby Football Union it has signed the league’s “death warrant” and made redundancies inevitable due to drastic cuts.

The RFU will pay only £288,000 per club, down from £530,000, under the new terms for next season with Premiership Rugby also cutting its financial contribution to the league by half to £850,000 for 2021/22.

Chief executive Bill Sweeney explained the decision was based on a poor return of investment, “objectives and deliverables” not being met and the belief that the Championship is not the “primary place where Premiership and England players are discovered and developed”.

A stormy meeting at Twickenham on Tuesday afternoon saw Sweeney and director of performance Conor O’Shea come face to face with the 12 clubs, who were expecting a cut of around 10 per cent only.

It is feared that full control of professional club rugby in England has now been given to Premiership Rugby and that the top flight has effectively been ring-fenced by financially hamstringing Championship teams.

“It’s a savage cut. We’re shocked,” Paul Durkin, chairman of third-placed Cornish Pirates, told the PA news agency.

“We’re hugely disappointed, not just in the 50 per cent reduction but also in the manner it was done – the RFU haven’t covered themselves in any glory and will have to live with that.

“At 8:15am on Tuesday we received an email saying this is what they’re doing – it was a bit like getting sacked by text. We then met them in the afternoon.

“Every single club was shocked and we told Bill Sweeney and Conor O’Shea that effectively they had signed the death warrant of the second level of professional rugby in this country.

“We are investing millions in a new stadium. We have ambitions of going up to the Premiership and will continue as a fully professional club, as will a number of other clubs.

“But there will be a number who look at this huge gap in their funding who will have to become semi-pro.

“It’s very clear that the RFU were looking at this way back, yet have waited until February to tell us when all clubs have been contracting their squads from January 1. That will cost jobs.

“There is a human aspect to this. Players will go, the numbers of backroom staff will drop. There will be redundancies.

“We told them it will be chaos, a bloodbath. They’ve handled this abominably.”

Durkin’s views are echoed across the Championship, which is owned by the RFU but whose clubs also rely on financial support from benefactors.

Nottingham chairman Alistair Bow has strongly criticised the RFU’s lack of warning, while Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine branded the move Premiership ring-fencing “in all but name”.

Coventry have accused the RFU of a lack of transparency in the process and Jersey Reds chairman Mark Morgan was also frustrated by Twickenham’s approach to the cuts.

“There has been zero consultation, engagement, nor explanation before the announcement and no vision for the future of the Championship was provided,” Morgan said.

“With Bill Sweeney’s heralded business background, this is astonishingly poor execution.”

Nottingham chairman Bow’s anger was also directed at the RFU’s conduct as well as the cuts.

“We are extremely disappointed with the RFU announcement and subsequent reduction in funding, but we are even more disappointed and somewhat astounded at the underhand and deplorable way that we feel this has been communicated,” Bow said.

PRL state their cut in funding is motivated by the desire to invest more in its own pathways, such as the A-league and Premiership Rugby Cup.