If you asked me one month ago for my opinion on ring fencing I would have told you that the idea of it made me physically ill and that it was the worst thing that could ever happen to Premiership rugby. However, ask me today and I will tell it is the only reasonable solution from an economic and interest viewpoint.
The type of ringfencing I am referring to is the type that Premiership Rugby are proposing, a 14-team league including Saracens and the only other financially viable and stable Championship club, Ealing Trailfinders.
The most common argument against this idea (the one recycled a million times) is “but what about Exeter, they were in the Championship 10 years ago and now they are European and Premiership champions” and inevitably, “if you take away promotion and relegation you take away Cinderella stories” with the same being said of Bristol Bears. This used to be my opinion as well, until I realised that the stories of Exeter Chiefs and Bristol Bears aren’t fairy-tales, but myths. Both clubs were taken over by billionaires, Tony Rowe and Stephen Lansdown respectively, who pumped millions into the club’s facilities and wage bills in order to achieve success. Exeter may have achieved their promotion led by academy boys such as Henry Slade and Jack Nowell and club stalwarts such as Ian Whitten and Gareth Steenson but credit their Premiership titles to foreign imports such as Stuart Hogg, Nic White, Jacques Vermeulen, Jonny Gray, Jannes Kirsten and Olly Woodburn. Similarly, and to a greater extent, Bristol were promoted in 2016 and immediately relegated the following season with just 3 wins and 20 points because they ran with a similar squad to the one that got thempromoted. When they returned in 2018 they were re branded as Bristol Bears and led by some of the highest players in the league fresh off the plane, Charles Piutau, Luke Morahan, Chris Vui, Steven Luatua, Alapati Leuia who scored the winning try in the season opener vs Bath and Ian Madigan who scored the rest of the points. Since then they have added arguably the most advanced and impressive training facility in the world and two of the best players in the world in Kyle Sinckler and Semi Radradra, achieving a 3rd place finish this season.
The gulf between the Premiership and Championship has become comically large. Last season Newcastle were relegated and won every single game in the Championship before the season was voided including a 41-0 win over Bedford and a 57-0 win over Doncaster. This has created a yo-yo effect where the team that is promoted from the Championship nearly always comes straight back down and the team relegated from the Premiership nearly always comes back up. London Welsh, London Irish, Worcester Warriors, Newcastle Falcons and Bristol RFC have all been victims of this yo-yo effect, Irish in particular won just 20 points in the 2016 Premiership season before winning 91 points in the 2017 Championship season and then winning 22 points in the 2018 Premiership season before storming the Championship again with 99 points in 2019. The reason for this is because they are all teams who were promoted and did not spend significant amounts of money on a new squad. In fact, if you rewind 10 years to the 2009-10 season, the only 2 teams that are not in the league that are in this year’s league are Bristol and Exeter. Only 15 different teams have featured in the 12 team Premiership in the last 10 years. Therefore, it can only be concluded that it is impossible for Championship clubs to make the jump without a significant financial injection.
Let me just clarify that I still believe that the Championship should be protected and funded as it is essential for player development, however I don’t believe any Championship clubs have the potential to make the jump to the Premiership and be competitive except for ones with financial backing power such as Ealing. Take nothing away from the Chiefs and their passion and determination but let’s crush the narrative that Ampthill or Plymouth could be future Premiership Champions.