Josh Wright

Posts Tagged ‘Aviva Premiership’

Promotion, Relegation or Neither – The Intrinsic Issue with English Rugby

In Rugby Union on May 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Cornish Pirates involved in the Championship Final - a game that ultimatly provides little reward due to ground regulations

Following this week’s Championship Play-Off Final first leg between Worcester and Cornish Pirates, a game in which Pirates were defeated 21-12 in Penzance, the innate issue of structuring the league has returned to the forefront of debate in the sport. There seems to be an intrinsic issue regarding promotion and relegation at this current moment, one that seemingly defeats the whole purpose of the system currently implemented.

The Championship semi-finals were contested between Worcester, Cornish Pirates, London Welsh and Bedford Blues. The fact that they are in the semi’s, fighting over the ultimate goal of promotion, means that the ultimately successful team should be promoted? Leeds, having finished bottom of the Aviva Premiership should surely be relegated, as the system stipulates?  However in this year’s situation only Worcester would be allowed to process into the top tier of English rugby, the other three teams, whilst being crowned league champions, would be consigned to the Championship yet again, and Leeds would avoid of relegation despite their ultimate league position. Current ground regulations stipulate certain criteria for a club to be allowed to play in the top division, criteria that only Worcester meet.

What, therefore, was the purpose of the restructuring of the Championship in recent years? Currently the league is contested between 12 teams, the top 8 make the promotion play offs whereas the bottom 4 are consigned to relegation play offs. This is firstly a highly unfair system, if we examine the league this year Bristol, the 8th placed team, finished with 41 points whereas Worcester, the team that finished 1st in the regular season, finished with 101 points. What purpose does it fulfil rewarding a club like Bristol whose supporters would be the first to say have had a dreadful season with the opportunity for the ultimate prize?

We then have the second intrinsic issue with the new system in that while creating a play-off system such as this provides smaller clubs with the opportunity of competing for the prize of winning the league, it is ultimately futile as the majority of these clubs could not be promoted under current regulations. What therefore is the point of this? Attempt to increase the drama and excitement of the climax of the season? Attempt to draw in bigger crowds for these crucial games and as such provide much needed revenue for a large numbers of these clubs? While it is possible to claim that last season it was a success story, with Exeter being promoted and now occupying the top-flight for the first time in the club’s history, it has also been highly damaging. Bristol Rugby, having just been relegated, invested massively in insuring an immediate return to Aviva Premiership. Having finished top this would have previously been enough however the season effectively came down to a cup final between the two West Country sides, a final they ultimately lost. The club is now in financial turmoil, with the squad and coaching set up collapsing in and around itself. True it was foolhardy to invest so much on what was effectively one game, but it is now the fans of this historically large club that suffers.

What then are the options available for those who currently run the game at the highest level? Bath Director of Rugby Sir Ian McGeechan has today issued his support to a 14 team Premiership and a freeze on relegation, stating it would be for “the good of rugby.” The RFU has previously stated that it would block any possible attempts to increase the size of the league and that the current system would remain in place until 2016. Despite this a large number of those involved in the highest level of the game are still trumping for a system similar to what McGeechan was championing. However would limiting top class rugby to just a few teams really benefit the game?

I for one feel that what clubs such as Exeter and recently Bedford, Cornish Pirates and London Welsh have shown is that given the opportunity it is possible for them to succeed. They are inhibited by a flawed system in which it is not the quality of their rugby that is rewarded but the infrastructure of the club. A club should not be prevented from competing due to the size of its ground; if the quality of team is there then that should be enough. Sport is about winners and losers, and this is not determined in the boardroom but on the pitch, and as such it should be events on the pitch that dictate those off it, and not the other way around.