The debate around whether to ring-fence the Aviva Premiership seems to have cropped up again this week, with the idea being discussed at the RFU professional game board meeting today.
The current argument is that there are only one or two teams in the RFU Championship that would even want to be promoted to the Premiership, let alone have sufficient resources to build a squad to thrive in the top flight. Bristol are walking the league this year with huge budgets, whilst Ealing, Bedford and Nottingham make up the rest of the top four some way behind – none of whom have the stadium or budgets to play in the Premiership.
There are no playoffs this year, and the competition already seems done and dusted well before Christmas.
So without the incentive of promotion driving standards and competition in the second division, it’s only really the relegation from the Premiership that matters, and is the fear of relegation stifling ambition and performance there?
London Irish and Worcester seem to be battling it out in the basement this season, and whilst both have played some expansive rugby at times this season, will we see them tighten things up to grind out losing bonus points and the odd victory later in the year?
Does it also affect their long-term planning, with clubs reticent to invest in their playing squads and unable to attract the top talent in case they end up playing the likes of Jersey and Doncaster rather than Saracens and Leicester?
The other factor is the length of the season, since a ring-fenced Premiership would have at least one more team and possibly two, which would mean additional games to squeeze into the congested calendar. I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that the current season structure needs addressing anyway.
I am in favour of ending relegation, whilst keeping the door slightly ajar for ambitious teams in lower leagues to join the fray via a playoff or further league expansion in future. I’d also advocate playing each team once in the season, alternating home or away each year, getting the whole competition done and dusted in consecutive weekends – I wrote a radical blueprint for a new season structure a while ago, and whilst it’s never going to happen, I still think it has merit.
Where do you stand on the promotion and relegation issue in English Rugby?