I know its mentioned elsewhere but…..not good for growing the game
The aspirations of Championship clubs have taken a massive hit
As chief executives of the various Championship clubs drove away from Twickenham on Tuesday night in varying states of shock and anger, the question of what next loomed larger and larger.
Long before Storm Ciara pitched up at the weekend, a cold wind had been blowing through the Championship. With both their agreement with the Rugby Football Union and their sponsorship with Greene King IPA expiring in the summer, many clubs had been forced to put both their recruitment and retention on hold. Some were fearing a reduction in funding but no-one was expecting it to be slashed from £530,000 to £288,000.
So what does come next? Several chief executives contacted by The Daily Telegraph could not comment because they were still weighing up the implications of the cuts. There is a huge contrast of ambitions and infrastructures between the 12 clubs. At one end of the spectrum, Ealing Trailfinders, backed by Mike Gooley’s millions, should carry on as normal while other clubs such as Hartpury College and Yorkshire Carnegie already run part-time models.
Somewhere in the middle are Nottingham. Their annual budget is around £1.7 million, of which central funding made up roughly 40 per cent. Like any business facing a 20 per cent reduction in annual funding, they will have to make some drastic reductions in expenditure, which could push them towards following the part-time model.
“A club like Nottingham, which for 10 years has strived to do everything that the RFU asked us to do,” Alistair Bow, the Nottingham chairman, said. “Ten years ago, they wanted to expand the First Division into the Championship so English rugby could have a second tier of professional rugby. We played at Meadow Lane to highlight that. We then went to our own ground and developed our own facilities. We have complied to the medical standards. We have invested somewhere around £5-6m over the last 10 years into the club and jumped through every hoop they have asked us to. Then they come along and cut the cord. I don’t believe the RFU realises the effect its actions will have on clubs like Nottingham. It’s shocking.”
What is clear is that those actions will have a very real human cost. Players will lose their livelihoods, so too many support staff. Others will have to take paycuts. As my colleague Charlie Morgan wrote recently, Premiership players in the middle band of earners being squeezed out by the league’s salary cap such as Luke Wallace and Henry Purdy will soon have nowhere to go.
Even those clubs who remain full-time – and that may just be a couple in addition to relegated Saracens – will find themselves streets ahead of teams training on Tuesday and Thursday night. The lopsided nature of the Championship will merely magnify the gulf to the Premiership. With little competitive tension within the league, the already challenging task of attracting sponsors and supporters through the gate will become ever harder. The chances of another Exeter Chiefs rising up through the leagues and becoming English champions are as remote as a star in another galaxy. Ambition cannot take root in barren soil.
For years, the RFU and Premiership Rugby have been at loggerheads over the purpose of the Championship. Previous RFU director of professional rugby Nigel Melville previously tried to pitch the Championship as a development league for young English talent only to be shot down by Premiership opposition. As Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine is fond of saying, “we hold their coats while they fight and if there are crumbs left on the table when they have finished fighting then they might brush them our way.”
Now the Championship is not even getting the crumbs.
Well Gosh chaps looks like we may as well just settle at 14 teams (inc Sarries, Falcons and Trailfinders) and pull up the ring fencing draw bridge – or more precisely looks like the RFU are doing that now.
I don’t pretend to be a big fan of Championship Rugby and like that the premiership partner with championship clubs (Glos and Hartbury, London Irish and Barf….) but this isn’t a good look.