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Is now the time for the Aviva Premiership to be ‘ring-fenced’ – Part II?

Richmond RFC will make a welcome return to the Championship following their catastrophic demise in 1999 when millionaire backer Ashley Levett pulled his cash and the club went into administration and was sent crashing to the ninth tier of English rugby.

Richmond RFC has come out publicly to state that next season no ‘professional players’ will represent the club. The stance taken by Richmond RFC will ensure they attract some very talented players who will retain their off field pursuits with many of the squad working in the ‘City’ Monday to Friday.

Whilst many pundits will have Richmond RFC nailed on for relegation before the season begins, they might be a more attractive club to a young Championship prospect than some of the “full-time” clubs.

Some of the “full-time” Championship clubs are under the microscope following the recent articles penned by Championship players’ Ben Hooper and Jordan Davies. Hooper and Davies have highlighted that some players are being offered as little as £6k per annum to become full-time professional rugby players which falls far below any realistic salary these players should expect to be paid for the risks they are putting their bodies under.

With the lion’s share of the central funding being divided among the Premiership teams (and not in equal measures as was discussed in the first instalment of this blog series) the Championship has a real conundrum in maintaining 12 “full time” professional outfits. Presently Championship clubs receive £530,000 in central funding per year under a deal that is due to remain in place until 2020.

The RFU have been quoted as being “fully committed to the development of a professional English second-tier competition”, but the accounts of Hooper and Davies would contradict the RFU’s best intentions.

Would the RFU be better served considering a ‘ring-fenced’ 14-team Premiership under a franchise structure as a possible solution and accept that the Championship should support players having a ‘real job’ alongside training two nights a week and a game on the weekend?

In a crude evaluation of how the Championship stands next season, geography could dictate where two further Premiership franchises should come from. Yorkshire is served by Yorkshire Carnegie, Doncaster Knights and Rotherham Titans, all striving to be Premiership outfits in their own right. If tribal differences could be set aside and their resources pooled, the county would not see the player drain of its home grown talents such as Care, Burrell and Hill who are currently in the England squad.

Cornish Pirates have fallen away in recent seasons but seeing the rise of Devon neighbours Exeter Chiefs shows how the South West is a hot bed of rugby with little football to shout about and Cornwall would be well deserving of a franchise. London Irish could argue that they have the finances and resources to warrant a place in the 14, but with London already represented by Harlequins and Saracens under the geographical franchise ideology, the area is already well represented.

14 fully professional premiership teams ‘ring-fenced’ without fear of relegation arguably would improve the opportunities for young home-grown players to thrive as coaches would have no fear of blooding them. For those players who were aspiring to be picked up by a Premiership franchise then as the old adage goes ‘cream rises to the top‘. The best Championship players would still get picked up but at the same time they would have a traditional career to fall back on. These young hopefuls would not be chasing a dream for a belittling £6k for 11 months of the year only to see their “fully professional” contracts torn up as their club enforced a cumulative 12 week capability clause for three separate injuries, which was the case with Jordan Davies.

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