By Tom Home
Being someone who has had the privilege of working closely with several Greene King IPA Championship clubs, it genuinely infuriates me to think that some of the league’s incredibly talented and passionate teams may not get the opportunity to compete in the Premiership. Not for their lack of ability, but rather their chances being taken away via proposed ring-fencing.
It was not so long ago that the likes of Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints were plying their trade in England’s second division – both of which have gone on to win the Premiership title over recent years after being given the chance to thrive under new investment. If ring-fencing had been in place prior, neither side would have had the opportunity to develop into the dominant forces that they are today and amass their domestic and European successes.
Establishing the Championship as a professional league provides opportunities to English players, particularly younger ones, to make a name for themselves when Premiership appearances are not always readily available. Unsurprisingly, the fewer professional playing opportunities in England, the higher the likelihood that there will be a mass exodus of young, talented English players travelling overseas in search of fist-hand experience.
More pertinently, if it weren’t for the Championship, the England national team may have never discovered the likes of Jack Nowell, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Luke Cowan-Dickie and many other fantastic players that have represented the national side over the past decade. Granted, the majority of these players would, more than likely, have been scooped up at some point by Premiership sides, however, would they have initially received the same playing opportunities that they did, or would they have just been overshadowed by those club’s existing squads and never really made their marks?
Now, speaking purely from a sports perspective, rather than anything business-related, I think that promotion and relegation are integral aspects of the modern-day game. When you take away the main principles of sport – competition and consequence – it jeopardises the integrity of the game. Most Championship players hope to play in the Premiership one day and if the opportunity to do so is removed, what do you expect them to aspire to every season? At one point in time, the likes of Nottingham, Coventry and Moseley made up three of the original twelve clubs involved in the inaugural Premiership – who says that they can’t rise again in the not so distant future?
Not only from a playing perspective, but also in terms of coaching exposure, the Championship has allowed the likes of Rob Baxter and Jim Mallinder to lead teams to Premiership final success and showcase their abilities to take sides to the top of the domestic game. Additionally, several professional officials, such as Matthew Carley, Luke Pearce and Ian Tempest, also earnt their stripes refereeing in the Championship.
Undeniably, the Championship is a vital feeder to the Premiership and without doubt, the best way to increase standards at the top of the playing pyramid is to improve standards below. Unfortunately, Championship rugby funding cuts appears to actively want to worsen standards below. The current £8 million, which is shared between the 12 clubs, is due to be halved come the 2020-21 season, making it appear that the RFU and Premiership is all but naming ring-fencing. The RFU will drop their funding of £550,00 per team per season to £288,000 with no commitment to any form of funding beyond next season, while Gallagher Premiership rugby will reduce its £1.7 million funding to just £850,000 before entirely removing it by the 2021-22 season.
While I am sure there will be plenty of people that argue in favour of ring-fencing, for me personally, it spells a slow death to the development of professional rugby in England. Without doubt, the value and benefit of the Championship has been overlooked by the RFU and I believe, if they decide to ring-fence the league, it will be a decision they come to regret in the future.
This article was recently published in the Summer 2020 issue of Rugby Blindside.
Read the full issue here: