Sat. May 15th, 2021

So you find a new home and a new place to hide
Where’s there’s peace and shelter from the poison outside
But before too long I’ll be staring at the walls
Don’t kid yourself son, it’s just a matter of time

Cause when the fingers point… Whoa Oh
Fingers point…
Oh when the fingers point

The Christians – When The Finger Points

According to the proverb, the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.

Just how much truth this holds is open to debate, but the RFU is certainly doing its bit to put it to the test.

To those who follow the game below the Premiership, the RFU’s sat nav seems steadfastly set in that direction and the road it’s paved with is very much of the crazy variety.

Yet at first sight, the statement the RFU Council published last week would seem to have the best interests of the game at its core.

It states its aim is:

…to closely engage(d) with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.

and:

…to retain the ambition of clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship and below and to continue to allow a route to promotion to the Gallagher Premiership.

You’d have thought they would have been widely welcomed.

However, coming as they do from a governing body that has done little in recent years to earn the respect of most supporters in national leagues below the Premiership, they merely serve to reinforce the lack of trust afforded to them by the majority of those involved in the game outside of the top tier.

What the RFU giveth, the RFU taketh away…

…and in the same statement, too.

Dissembling doesn’t do the RFU justice. It’s far worse than that.

Having given the impression that the RFU ‘will continue to allow a route to promotion to the Gallagher Premiership’ it then dispels any sort of commitment to this notion.

Having rejected relegation from the Premiership this current season, the RFU confirmed that:

…it is likely that any season structures may also include a further moratorium on promotion and relegation for three or four seasons, after which the structure will be subject to further review.  Those proposals would be subject to a vote of the RFU Council before the end of the 2020/21 season. 

If moratorium there is used in the sense that I understand the word to mean, we could expect a further suspension of promotion/relegation for 3 or 4 more seasons and THEN a further review in time for the 2026/27 season.

And by then, of course, no relegation/promotion between the Premiership and the Championship would be pretty much embedded into the system and very difficult to reinstate.

Forgive me, but I really don’t see how that can possibly help maintain the integrity of the future league system, as well as help retain the ambition of clubs in the Championship.

If in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, then one is left hoping there are at least enough partially-sighted leaders at the RFU, outside of the Council, to make up for the complete lack of vision shown by its governing body.

But it doesn’t stop there. Whilst there is promotion into the Premiership for this season at least, it comes with a caveat just in case Saracens don’t win the Championship as everyone down at HQ appears to be hoping/expecting. There must have been a few furrowed brows there over the last couple of weeks or so as Ealing beat Saracens in each of their two pre-season friendlies, so it is no surprise that last week’s statement also includes the following proviso:

Holistic new minimum standards on and off the pitch for promotion to the Gallagher Premiership will be developed between now and the end of May 2021 with involvement and approval from Council which will be designed to promote sustainability in the professional game.

The 20/21 season finishes with Round 11 games completed on the weekend of  May 29/30.

Coincidence? I think not.

Any decision to change current standards (and if it’s not Saracens winning the Championship, it’s a fair bet that there will be) gives no team other than Saracens little time to put in place the kind of alterations that would comply with RFU standards or to administer a  possible ground share.

Not even Ealing – unless the Premiership decide 14 teams would be better and the RFU do a complete volte face and Ealing is offered, say, a £20m buy-in…

A stitch up for sure.

And the implications of the RFU’s statement go a good deal further.

A 3 or 4 year moratorium to be then followed by a further review means that any potential planning for those clubs biding there time in the Championship, but hopeful of one day being offered a fair opportunity at promotion into the Premiership, will almost certainly have to be put on hold.

Why would Coventry, for instance, spend big sums on building a squad capable of winning the title in 24/25 or 25/26 when there’s every chance that promotion will be further delayed or scrapped totally? It would be unrealistic to expect Jon Sharp to dig deep into his pockets, pockets which must bulge far less now than they did back in March 2020. By all accounts he’s put in a goodly sum (again) to keep the club afloat during the pandemic.

And why would the Cov Board give the green light to further planned ground improvements over the next couple of seasons, improvements which were always designed to support the club both in its attempt to gain promotion into the Premiership and then help sustain it once successful? In such uncertain times, financial commitments of the size that would be required would surely be at best risky, at worst near terminal for a club that has in recent years under Jon Sharp appeared to shown extreme prudence when planning such long-term projects.

What incentive would there be, too, for players to stay in the game when there is little or no opportunity to break into the Premiership from a Championship where the levels of skills/fitness might suffer because of a lack of competitive edge brought about by ring-fencing?

Indeed, what’s to keep talented young coaches like our own RW from staying in the Championship when career progression is made all the more difficult, tough as it is already? And so on…

And this is where my views might well differ from the majority reading this post.

For me, all this uncertainty will only cause more frustration, even angst, amongst clubs (and their supporters, too) in the Championship or below that have real aspirations of playing in the Premiership in the next few years.

If the RFUs not-so-hidden agenda is to ring-fence, then be honest about it, rather the  prevaricate and procrastinate all the time – at least then clubs below the Premiership could get on with planning their own futures, hopefully outside the control of the RFU, rather remain seemingly in limbo for the next few seasons, with the likelihood of the game stagnating both on and off the pitch.

If we were to be told now that there would be no promotion from the Championship until 2024/25, then at least clubs would have something to build towards. But to leave it hanging so that even at the end of the 2025/26 the RFU might still review the possibility of reinstating promotion, well that’s just going to do nothing to ‘maintain the league’s integrity’. Nothing at all.

If clubs knew for definite that promotion would be reinstated a few years down the line, then realistically of the 12 clubs that would start the 2021/22 season, probably only Ealing (or Saracens) in the Championship would really miss out. The impact of Covid these past 11 months has meant clubs have had to pare their already sparse resources to the bone. Rowland Winter has previously suggested that we have slipped back two years in terms of where we were pre-Covid, so to build the club back even into a position where were were 11 months ago, and from there to a club capable of winning the league, would arguably take four seasons anyway.

Even were there to be promotion from 2021/22, would Cov be in a position to go up either in terms of monies to strengthen the squad or to improve facilities enough to meet the RFU’s new minimum standards?  Doubtful to say the least.

Equally, though, it is clear to me that whatever the outcome of the ‘is there/isn’t there promotion’ debacle, there are enough genuine folk at Coventry, those who have the club very much at the heart of everything they do, to ensure that whatever the RFU throws at them in the future, whatever hurdles the club is forced to jump, the club will survive. And not just survive. Grow stronger, too.

Delapsus resurgam.

When I fall I shall rise. (Cue 10cc…).

What is palpably so wrong about all this, to me anyway, is that the RFU seems so keen to add to all this uncertainty by refusing to make any decisions for the good of the national game if they might in any way impact negatively on the Gallagher Premiership.

They are supposed to be the custodians of the game, but they are themselves shackled, made impotent by the financial clout the Premiership now wields.

So you find a new home and a new place to hide
Where’s there’s peace and shelter from the poison outside
But before too long I’ll be staring at the walls
Don’t kid yourself son, it’s just a matter of time

The RFU has chosen to shelter under the all-enveloping financial wings of the Premiership;  at the possible expense of the long-term survival of the game at a national/community level.

At the risk of sounding like Trump, we have to metaphorically (just in case the RFU’s lawyers get to read this 🙂 ) fight like hell. And if we don’t fight like hell, we’re not going to have a game anymore.

No storming rugby’s HQ though, just a concerted effort by everyone involved in the game below the Premiership to ensure that ‘the integrity of future leagues’ really is maintained and that every club across the country is entitled, at the very least, to aspire to playing in the Premiership. Take away that motivation and the soul of the game is removed, too.

We need to start pointing that finger at the RFU, every one of us, and demand that the RFU looks into its own soul to determine whether its own motivations really are for the good of the game as a whole or simply to appear to retain some sort of control by appeasing its real master, the Gallagher Premiership…

Cause when the fingers point… Whoa Oh
Fingers point…
Oh when the fingers point

Link to RFU summary statement: RFU COUNCIL VOTES IN FAVOUR OF NO PREMIERSHIP RELEGATION

By Tim

Any thoughts:

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