RFU propose National One shake-up
November 10, 2008
RFU Management Board Chairman Martyn Thomas insists the new set-up will "give the clubs more financial security than ever before" © Getty Images
The Rugby Football Union have proposed a fully professional 12-team Championship to replace National Division One from next season.
After a year of negotiations with First Division Rugby - the body for second-tier clubs - the RFU Council is set to discuss the issue at Friday's meeting, when a final decision on the proposal could be made. If the plan is ratified the top 12 sides in Division One this season will get the opportunity to become founder members of the Championship, with participation granted only to those clubs willing to go professional.
If any of those 12 clubs decide not to, their place will be offered to the next highest-ranked side in the league.
The Championship will be funded to the tune of £2.3million per year by the RFU for 24 months, plus £1million from Premier Rugby - the body for Guinness Premiership clubs - for eight years, sponsorship and a rights share from the RFU's new five-year TV rights deal with Sky. After two years, the RFU's injection will be replaced by cash given to clubs for fielding England-qualified players and who improve their facilities.
All clubs hoping to take part in the division will be subject to a salary cap and will have to meet minimum ground requirements.
Under the proposal, the top eight teams in the Championship would be split into two pools for the end-of-season play-offs, with the top pair from each progressing to the knockout stages which will eventually provide a single winner who would be promoted to the Premiership. The bottom four would play each other home and away in a relegation play-off pool, with the last-placed team after six rounds of matches going down to the third tier, which will now be named National Division One.
The top four Championship sides, including the team relegated from the top flight, would go into the EDF Energy Cup, with the rest of the division entering the Trophy competition. Below the third tier, National Division Two will comprise two 16-team leagues split into North and South, with four regional Division Threes.
Yhe full statement released today the RFU said:
The Rugby Football Union believes that a professional league below the Guinness Premiership is the right way forward for English rugby.
A 12-team Championship, currently National Division One, will develop English players, coaches and referees in a competitive, professional and financially secure environment. Funded by the RFU, Premier Rugby Ltd, the new five-year agreement with Sky Sports and sponsorship, Championship clubs will be financially better off in a structure that directly underpins the Guinness Premiership.
Negotiations with First Division Rugby, the umbrella organisation for National Division One clubs, have been ongoing for 12 months and, subject to approval by the RFU Council, the Championship will be established for the 2009-10 season. RFU Management Board Chairman Martyn Thomas said: "The Championship will be a vital part of the structure of English rugby.
"For too long First Division Rugby has hovered between the community game and the Premiership, uncertain of both its standing in the structure and its future. Now is the time to establish its rightful place. The RFU is fully committed to funding and supporting a professional and robust league with minimum entry criteria and a salary cap that will support the Guinness Premiership.
"We will be increasing our funding to the new Championship from £1.65m a year to £2.3m and, under the new eight-year agreement, PRL have committed to a £1m per annum funding. That significant investment, coupled with more matches and television coverage under the Sky Sports contract, will give the clubs more financial security than ever before and create a vibrant and viable structure to take the game forward."
Proposed Championship structure
+ Reduction from 16 to 12 clubs
+ 22 regular season matches
+ Promotion play-offs for the top eight (each club to play minimum of six matches) - two pools of four, playing home and away - top two from each pool to play in Championship semi-finals - winning semi-finalists to play in Championship final - final could be played on a home and away basis or at Twickenham - winner of Championship final promoted to Guinness Premiership subject to meeting Minimum Standards Criteria
+ Relegation play-offs for the bottom four (each club to play minimum of six matches) - home and away fixtures - bottom club in play-off pool relegated to newly-named National Division One (level three)
Anglo-Welsh Cup (each club/region to play minimum of four matches)
- 12 Guinness Premiership clubs, four Welsh regions, four Championship clubs (one relegated from GP, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers in previous season's Championship, or National Division One for season 08-09) - four pools of five (three GP, one Welsh Region, one Championship club) - played on a home or away basis - pool winners qualify for the semi-finals - winning semi-finalists play in Cup final
Anglo-Welsh Trophy (each club to play minimum of six matches)
- eight Championship clubs, eight Welsh Principality Premiership clubs - four regional pools of four to provide local derbies - played on a home and away basis - pool winners qualify for the semi-finals - winning semi-finalists play in Trophy final
Championship clubs will be guaranteed a minimum of 32 or 34 matches, (depending on which Anglo-Welsh tournament they play in) including 16 home games. Teams reaching the finals of both the Championship play-offs and an Anglo-Welsh tournament will play an additional four/five matches.
Entry and eligibility
- clubs finishing 2nd to 11th in National Division One at end of season 2008-9 invited to join the Championship for 2009-10 along with relegated club from Guinness Premiership and promoted club from National Division Two - minimum entry criteria based on simplified version of Premiership criteria - salary cap based on simplified version of Premiership criteria - if any clubs do not wish to join the Championship, invitations will be extended to the other four National Division One clubs and then top two from National Division Two based on league positions
- Rights fee share from Sky Sports for a new five-year agreement commencing in 2010-11 - PRL funding of £1m per annum to Championship over eight years - RFU funding of £2.3m per annum comprising core funding in first two years to be then replaced by revenue for clubs fielding English Qualified Players and who invest in their facilities
National League competitions
The new National Division One will become a 16-team league comprising five clubs not included in the Championship, nine clubs from National Division Two, one promoted from National Division Three South, one promoted from National Division Three North.
The new National Division Two will become two leagues of 16 clubs divided into North and South divisions comprising clubs from the existing National Division Three North and South.
The new National Division Three will be based divisionally on four leagues (South West, London, North and Midlands) comprising clubs from the current existing National Division Three and below.
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