Rugby Premiership expanding to 14 clubs – what’s the impact?

Rugby Premiership expanding to 14 clubs – what’s the impact?

English Rugby Union will be changing at the start of the next season thanks to a major decision by the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) council to expand the Gallagher rugby top division.

The RFU’s governing body made the decision to broaden the size of the Premiership to 14 clubs, beginning in the Rugby Premiership 2022 season, which extends into 2023.

The body also said that it would hit the brakes on relegation, too.

The move means that North London side the Saracens will be able to stay in the Premiership until at least the end of the 2022–23 season.

This comes after they pulled off a victory in the Greene King IPA Championship this November.

The technicalities

While this means that the 2021–22 season will contain 13 sides, the number is set to rise even further next time around when an additional side is added.

The identity of the 14th team is not yet known.

Rules have also been written for settling on who will eventually be relegated when that practice resumes in the 2023–24 season.

That will be decided by pitting the Championship winners against the Premiership’s lowest ranking team in a play-off scenario.

The current status quo, which sees one team move up a division and one team move down a division each year, will return in 2024–25.

However, there is a possibility that the RFU might take a different approach – although its council would need to confirm this.

It’s also the case that the overall move is still dependent on the clubs that move up from the Championship into the newly-inflated top-flight adhering to various standards.

These standards, which act as a baseline for clubs, are set to be edited in the near future.

Reasons behind the move        

The reasons behind the move are financial in nature.

The RFU’s council is understood to be concerned about the long-term viability of teams in the rugby union system following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some teams are understood to have faced difficult financial situations after a long period of cancelled games and reduced revenue.

The move is expected to give Premiership sides the chance to plan for the medium-term. The move, which has been labelled ‘The Covid Recovery Plan’, is also designed to boost sustainability and help more local, grassroots clubs.

What does it mean?

Some have raised concerns that the move could have the consequence of protecting teams that are already in the Premiership by reducing the mobility of teams.

“Mechanisms are in place to ensure that a Championship club will have the opportunity to be promoted”

Jeff Blackett, President of the RFU

He also attempted to allay the concerns of those who fear it could have a long term impact on rugby union integrity.

He pointed out that it was up to the RFU’s council to decide what happened in the long run.

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