After the furore surrounding London Welsh’s promotion over the last few days, it’s important to remember that for the club going down, Newcastle Falcons, relegation might not be such a bad thing after all. The Falcons confirmed this morning that they would not take the matter any further to the high court, thus deciding that they will play in the RFU Championship next season.
Naturally, dropping down to the league below comes at a financial cost. Worcester’s relegation back in 2010 saw them lose around £1.5 million in revenue, which comes down to lack of sponsorship for clubs in the Championship in comparison to the Aviva Premiership where Land Rover, QBE and of course Aviva themselves feature prominently. That’s before considering the loss of television revenue, a significant factor given the number of games shown by Sky and ESPN, and also a drop in matchday attendances due to an overall reduced number of matches without European competition along with the dip in interest due to the inability to watch the best players in the country on a weekly basis. Fewer fans means less merchandise sold and other factors that all total up.
The reason such an emphasis is placed on the financial side is down to the fact that according to recent years, the teams that keeps the majority of their squad intact when dropping down tend to bounce back the quickest. With less money available for salaries and contracts, players either have to bite the bullet and believe in the cause, or move on to allow the club more financial flexibility. Looking at the departures from Leeds last year – a total of 15 including Marco Wentzel, Steve Thompson, Kearnan Myall and James Craig – their chances of bouncing back were never going to be strong and so it proved with a 6th place finish overall and failing to reach the playoffs.
Newcastle however are slightly different. By and large they have retained the majority of the squad from last season, excluding Tim Swinson’s departure to Glasgow and Peter Stringer returning to Munster after the end of his loan. Thanks to the financial injection from Semore Kurdi, Alex Crockett, Andrew Higgins, Carlo Del Fava and Rory Lawson have all arrived at Kingston Park this summer along with four more new signings. Add into that the coaching staff led by Dean Richards and Newcastle’s odds of winning the Championship look a lot stronger.
Relegation over the last five years has proven to be the catalyst for Northampton reaching the Heineken Cup Final and Harlequins winning the Aviva Premiership. The hope for Newcastle will be that it can breathe life back into rugby in the North East.
Five Relegation Successes and Failures:
Rotherham Titans (2003/2004)
After winning three Championship titles in four years and being denied promotion in 2002, Rotherham returned to the Zurich Premiership only to loss all 22 of their matches in 2003/2004, seeing them relegated with just 3 points for the whole season. The nearest club to them, Leeds Tykes, finished on 37. Following the relegation, owner Mike Yarlett severed his ties with the club resulting in a frantic race by a consortium to save the club from extinction. The vast squad changes lead them to finish 8th in the Championship that season and they have stayed there since.
Relegated after narrowly missing out on a crucial win at the end of the 2005 season, Harlequins retained the majority of their squad including players such as Andrew Mehrtens, Will Greenwood, Ugo Monye and Andre Vos, leading them to 25 wins out of a possible 26 as well as scoring 1001 points, an average of around 40 per game. On returning to the Premiership they finished in 7th place and handed debuts to future England internationals Mike Brown, Jordan Turner-Hall, Danny Care, marking the beginning of the side that won the Aviva Premiership title in 2012.
Northampton Saints (2006/2007)
After going down on the final day of the season despite defeating London Irish at home, Northampton removed Paul Grayson from his position of Head Coach and installed Jim Mallinder as Director of Rugby with Dorian West as his assistant, a coaching team that would lead Northampton to the Heineken Cup Final in 2011. That summer also saw the arrival of Chris Ashton, Stephen Myler and James Downey at Franklin’s Gardens, with Saints going on to win all 30 of their matches in the Championship and Ashton scoring 41 tries including 6 against Launceston. On their return to the Premiership the following season, they finished 8th.
Bristol’s four year stint in the Premiership came to an end in 2009 after they failed to win more than two matches all season, picking up six losing bonus points along the way. They finished 17 points away from safety and Director of Rugby Richard Hill left the club at the end of the season. David Lemi, Joe El Abd, Shaun Perry, Dan Ward-Smith and Dave Attwood all left the club over the summer and since then despite finishing in 1st place in both 2010 and 2012, Bristol missed out on promotion to Exeter Chiefs and then London Welsh in the playoffs, with an 8th placed finish in between.
Worcester Warriors (2009/2010)
After a six year stint in the Premiership which saw Worcester challenging frequently in both European and domestic cup competitions, the Warriors were relegated in 2010 after finishing 4 points behind 11th placed Sale Sharks. Coach Mike Ruddock resigned and was replaced by Richard Hill, with the club making plenty of promising signings including Andy Goode, Neil Best and Tom Arscott. They picked up 30 wins out of 31 during the regular season before defeating Cornish Pirates in the Play-off Final thanks to Goode’s boot and the strike power of Miles Benjamin and Marcel Gravey. On their return to the Premiership last season, they finished 10th, four points clear of safety.
by Ben Coles