Apart from the 10,000 point deduction and a fine that would pay off the National debt, the rugby focus over the last month has not been the Six Nations; it’s the decision to cut funding to the Championship clubs.
Effectively, unless all the other clubs (with the exception of Newcastle or Saracens next year) have a sugar daddy, they will never be able to get into the top tier or have a chance of staying there.
In my time in the game I saw both Worcester and Exeter cross the great divide and whilst Worcester have been up and down a few times, Exeter’s success story was one that all Championship clubs looked upon as being the ‘Holy Grail’. Exeter does have a benefactor to some extent in Tony Rowe but they also stand alone as a club who have built slowly and put in firm foundations. They tick every box of having done things right and fully deserve to be where they are.
One club that was doomed to eventual failure was Wasps with their move to Coventry. They made the move, made an initial impression but it was built on sand. We heard of bonds being offered that were investigated by the finance specialists in London and from being a club that made it to the final, they skirted relegation this year until Saracens were chopped off at the knees!
Some clubs in the Championship are happy just to be there but there are some with ambitions to get promoted, but they will now have to curb their enthusiasm and some players will either have to take pay cut or move to France or Italy. In the early part of the current century the Championship clubs were part of the knockout cup and I remember Pertemps Bees knocking Wasps out in a quarter final. That competition too is confined to the history books and we now have a cup competition with Premiership Clubs only (the Welsh packed it in) and some clubs play full strength teams whereas others play development players. It’s about as interesting and well supported as the Freight Rover Trophy used to be in football. News that Sale were giving tickets away for the final to their season ticket holders is a clue on how high up in the pecking order the cup is thought of!
Professional Rugby in the Premiership is, to me, at the crossroads. It will either take the correct turn or drive off a cliff. The Rugby Writers have voiced their disgust at the cut in funding for Championship Clubs and they play a massive part in what works and what doesn’t work in the game. Players are paid ridiculous amounts of money in wages and let’s be honest if you take out the big games played at Twickenham/Wembley or Tottenham; the average gate is around 13,000 for the league, which sits side by side with league one football.
Why CVC splashed £30+ million into the game is a mystery to me and unless I have missed it, I don’t know what they want for their money yet! Out of that big dollop of money or indeed the Saracens fine money, why not help the Championship clubs out so that you can have two strong leagues? Clubs have been bringing talent over from the South Seas for a few years now and that is about to end with the Kolpak ruling running out soon. County cricket clubs and indeed club sides are wondering where they will get their players from and going back to the start of this piece, if you choke the championship clubs, the Premiership clubs will not find new recruits which will put more strain on Academy sides to develop players quicker.
In a nutshell the spreadsheet wins again as its in black and white for the executives at HQ but ill thought out for the short, mid and long term future of club rugby.
Views, opinions and words by Dave Swanton.