The ringfencing of the Premiership is very much on the cards and it seems to be a case of when rather than if the changes will be made.
Ringfencing the Premiership, which would mean no promotion/relegation for a number of seasons, is not without its problems.
First of all, there are 13 clubs who are Premiership shareholders, the current 12 and Bristol, so it is possible that one of these clubs could be outside England’s top-tier for a number of seasons.
To offset the pain of missing out, the RFU and Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) will increase the funding to Championship clubs once the ringfencing is in place but the problem still remains, how do you fit 13 teams into a 12-team league?
One of the proposals was a one-off promotion/relegation playoff between the bottom-placed Premiership club and the top-placed Championship club but this proposal is understood to be rejected outright by officials.
As a result, it is being considered to expand the Premiership to 13 or 14 teams, according to a report in The Guardian. However, this comes with its own problems, especially around an arduous season becoming even longer and more attritional for players, with welfare in the English game a hot-topic at the moment.
Consequently, it understood that one of the solutions is to reduce the number of teams in the Premiership competing in the Champions Cup, where at the moment, up to seven English teams can qualify for Europe’s top-tier club competition.
This would result in fewer teams taking part in the competition and lead to a reduction in minutes played by players in England.
According to the report in The Guardian, ‘There is a feeling that the Champions Cup has lost its aura with more than half of the Premiership taking part this season and fewer European matches would allow for an expanded top flight in England without adding to player workload.’
Now, this, of course, will come with its own problems and it’s likely that EPCR would not be keen to reduce the competition having already succumbed to the wishes of the PRL and LNR in reducing the number of competing teams a few seasons ago.