With the Championship playoffs reaching their climax this evening, the usual debate over the promotion and relegation system has risen to prominence again, and even Sir Ian McGeechan has voiced his views this time. Guest writer Andrew Outram summarises the arguments each way – what do you think?
Worcester are likely to return to the Premiership tonight, to the detriment of Leeds Carnegie
McGeechan has called for a 14-man Premiership and a freeze on relegation for 5 year, which would see Worcester, Bristol and Leeds in the Premiership, and the Championship clubs left to fight it out for the rights to call themselves the 15th best team in England.
On the face of it, McGeechan’s comments are valid. Of the sides in the Championship playoffs, 3 of them didn’t meet the required standards to gain entry into the Premiership, whilst the promotion to and relegation from the top flight has been contested by the same 3 teams for the last four years. Exeter Chiefs have been a revelation this season, but that sort of story is a rarity.
McGeechan wants stability in the league. He and other clubs believe that the looming threat of relegation makes clubs refuse to commit long term investment. Scrolling back through the last few promotions and relegations, with the exception of Exeter, the names read uncanny familiarity.
A five-year break gives the Premiership fringe clubs a chance to consolidate, commit to long-term budgets, and build some stability into the business. At the same time, the option is there for the teams in the Championship to begin to adapt and improve their facilities to meet the required standard, and potentially build their businesses to make the step up less daunting.
Whilst this would undoubtedly be a good thing for the top flight clubs, those at the top of the Championship such as Bedford, Cornish Pirates and London Welsh may stutter. Harlequins and Northampton both went down retaining their stars and then bounced back emphatically. Their larger budgets allowed them to win the league clearly and go on to become the teams they are now, but not all teams have that luxury.
There has to be some form of competition during this period or domestic rugby below the top flight will suffer. Whilst the Championship clubs may achieve stability, and produce facilities worthy of the Premiership, for five years they will not have a club in the league with a higher calibre of player to test themselves against. In this McGeechan drew a comparison to Rugby League and believes a similar structure would make things more sustainable.
But what happens after the fifth year? The bottom team gets relegated, and the Championship playoff winner, providing they meet all the criteria, gets promoted. Does that then drop us back into the same reoccurring relegation/promotion scenario, where the same teams battle year in year out?
Surely the same problems will arise? The team that finishes bottom gets relegated and is forced to lose all their star players, and the team that gets promoted won’t commit to a larger budget because their playing squad doesn’t have the depth to be able to compete at a higher level.
The ultimate problem is the gulf in class between the Championship and the Premiership. This season has proven that our clubs can be competitive with their European counterparts, and as such the structure of the Premiership isn’t the problem.
In my view, having a freeze on promotion and relegation for any period of time isn’t the answer. It may have worked for rugby league, but look at welsh rugby beneath the Magners League. The once proud clubs aren’t what they used to be.
Restructuring does need to happen. However, it needs to happen below the Premiership. Produce a second professional league to be proud of; invest time and money into the Championship clubs, to close the gap in quality between them and the established teams in the Premiership and stability will eventually come.
What do you think? Should the Premiership close the door?
By Andrew Outram