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RFU proposes two-tier Premiership franchise to replace Championship despite huge opposition

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Friday Dec 22, 2023

The English league structure has taken a serious financial battering over the past couple of years. Three Premiership sides and one Championship-winning club all went bust in the space of one season, with others possibly facing the same fate if things do not change.

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In an attempt to reconfigure the fate of top-level sides, the RFU has announced plans to introduce a two-tier franchise plan involving the existing Premiership and Championship. The announcement comes in direct opposition to a recent vote by the Championship against the proposed new changes which will require bids of up to £20m to enter the new provisionally named ‘Premiership 2’.

The progressive plans are finely balanced on a knife-edge, with Championship sides yet to be convinced of the RFU’s movements. If not enough sides sign up, then the plans will be simply scrapped, with Championship sides being warned that the extra funding may be used elsewhere.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney took a rather blunt stance on the existing state of Championship rugby, saying: “We’ve shown that if you pour money into the existing structure of the Championship, it just doesn’t deliver. That’s not being disrespectful, it just doesn’t.

BATH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 16: Lewis Wynne of Jersey Reds leads his team off the field after the Premiership Rugby Cup match between Bath Rugby and Jersey Reds at The Recreation Ground on September 16, 2023 in Bath, England. (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

“What [the Championship clubs] have said is that if they don’t opt-in, they would rather be the top of the community game pyramid. They’ve said that. I’m not entirely sure why they would say that – if you are a Coventry or an Ealing, why wouldn’t you want to be part of this?

“If you’d prefer to be top of the community game pyramid with your normal promotion and relegation through, it’s not really the performance model we are investing in. If you can’t have that model, and it’s not delivering the benefits and connected in the way we want it to be, you’d rather take that money and invest it in some of the other things that are being talked about.”

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This new concept will potentially provide the option for former Premiership sides, Worcester Warriors, Wasps and London Irish to re-enter the fray under certain conditions, but Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s executive director of performance rugby has explained that existing Championship clubs do get priority.

“The current Championship clubs will get the first opportunity to say, ‘We are in’ or ‘we are out’,” O’Shea explained. We’ll set a bar which is not unattainable and they’ll be part of setting that new minimum operating standard, then they can look at it and say [if they are in or out].

“Then we’ll say, ‘Are there additional teams who can come in?’. We can’t just keep on doing what we’ve always done and expect a different result. What we want is a league with the best teams in it with the most potential to grow commercially and to be a sustainable, investible model. We want this to be a viable and sustainable league”

Steve Diamond, the ex-director of rugby for Sale and Worcester, has been appointed as an independent consultant. When inquired about whether the Warriors, Wasps, and Irish should settle all debts before returning to the sport, he commented.: “If those clubs do everything within the legal terms with their administrators, why would you not want those brands into your league? Why would you not want Wasps?”

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WORCESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: Steve Diamond, the Worcester Warriors director of rugby walks off the pitch after their defeat during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Worcester Warriors and Exeter Chiefs at Sixways Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Worcester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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