In a recent development, the hopes of establishing a Premiership 2 franchise model in England to support the Gallagher Premiership have been dashed by the Championship Rugby clubs. This decision comes in the aftermath of the demise of the 2022/23 Championship champions, Jersey Reds. Bill Sweeney, the RFU CEO, had previously expressed the importance of a strong second tier for the game’s development, but the Championship clubs unanimously opposed the proposed franchise model.
The RFU’s Vision and Championship Clubs’ Stand
Last month, Bill Sweeney emphasized the RFU’s commitment to second-tier rugby, acknowledging the challenges of getting it right. He discussed ongoing talks with Championship clubs regarding the shape of Premiership 2, academies, player development, and funding, emphasizing the desire for a system similar to France. However, the average Championship attendance of 1,300 posed a growth challenge that wouldn’t happen overnight.
“We firmly believe that a strong second tier is important for the development of the game. It is not something that is easy to get right. We have had consistent talks with the Championship clubs since a meeting in Farnborough last February.
“We have been talking about the shape of Premiership 2, academies, player development and mechanisms. We have not been able to confirm the level of funding which will have to wait until the professional game partnership is agreed.
“We have said we will advise them ahead of next season and there has been much more dialogue than before. It has been a challenge but we are committed to it and would ideally like to have a system similar to France, but the average attendance in the Championship is 1,300. We need to grow that and it will not happen overnight.”
Club Decision and Statement
The 11 remaining Championship clubs convened to deliberate on their collective future, specifically regarding the franchise model. In a unified decision, the clubs rejected the proposed model. Their statement highlighted the following key points:
Whole-Game Solution: The clubs expressed a commitment to finding whole-game solutions rather than creating obstacles within the club rugby pyramid.
Promotion and Relegation Doubts: Significant doubt about the possibility of promotion and relegation into and from the Premiership raised concerns about fairness.
Meritocratic Entry: Opposition to a franchise model allowing non-meritocratic entry into Premiership 2.
Tender Process Reluctance: Unwillingness to commit to a tender process.
The Championship clubs outlined their vision for a second tier of English rugby, articulating several principles:
Competitive Pyramid: The Premiership should be at the top of the competitive pyramid, open to all clubs with the ability, aspiration, and ambition to compete.
Equitable Treatment: Aspiring to participate in the most competitive environment possible with equitable treatment by those controlling the route to the top.
Financial Sustainability: Commitment to financial sustainability, exploring commercial rights and brand identity potential.
Professionalism and Amateur Ethos: Offering the highest affordable level of professionalism aligned with the amateur ethos dear to the heart of the game.
Community Relationships: Continuing to build community relationships and encouraging rugby at all levels.
Development Pathway: Collaborating with the RFU and PRL to grow the game from the grassroots upwards, focusing on developing young players as part of a pathway to the top.
Player Welfare Standards: Working with the RPA to set high standards for player welfare and education.
The Championship clubs hope for continued support from the Rugby Football Union, emphasising their league’s vital roles in the development of the game in England. They see their league as a connecting bridge between the Premiership, England’s national set-up, and the rest of the sport at various levels. According to the clubs, this approach is the only sustainable way forward, ensuring the integrity and competitive heartbeat of English rugby and providing a solid foundation for future efforts to enhance the quality and quantity of participation across all levels.