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Rugby: Dick Straughan's view on the Cornish Pirates

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: March 06, 2014

Comments (1)

THIS week will see the latest attempt by Championship clubs to get together and try and find some collective common ground from which they can petition to improve this grossly under funded league.

Everyone will have their own ideas about what needs to be done as they sit around the table and I won't be staking any money on firm decisions being made. But what is clear is that change needs to happen at Level 2 of English rugby and it needs to happen fast.

I mentioned the appalling TV rights deal which exists in the Championship when I discussed the postponed London Welsh game a fortnight ago, and maintained that whoever thought that was a good idea should never be allowed anywhere near a negotiating table again for the rest of their days.

Pirates owner Dicky Evans has gone a stage further and suggested that the structure of the league needs to change, along with a better TV deal, with clubs, who cannot realistically attain Premiership rugby, concentrating on their own financial viability and sustainability. He is dead right.

Evans proposes an end to automatic promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership, with an end of season play-off between the Championship winners and the bottom side in the top flight. He admits that he expects to get criticism for this and probably will, by the bucket load, but we have had this same thing during the earlier years of league rugby in England, and it might even start to appease those club owners and coaches in the top flight who detest the notion of failing clubs being relegated.

Impractical

The proposal of effectively having a Premiership 1 & 2 is also not new but with better funding the Championship could grow into that. Each season there would three or four teams with a realistic hope of promotion while the rest could compete without the fear of financial oblivion, but the can of worms that is club rugby opens even further with the quandary over what to do with the team winning National One. Well, why not have the same play-off system?

Promotion and relegation must stay between all levels, yet the current funding model in English rugby is making the existing league structure increasingly impractical because too many teams are reaching for the stars without having the money or the facilities to sustain it.

In Cornwall we have the Pirates, who are currently the senior team in the region. They are competitive in the Championship but are light years away from more than that without a stadium and heavy outside investment. I don't see any of that coming anytime soon.

Redruth and the Cornish All Blacks, both proud clubs in their own right, are struggling to remain competitive and afloat in the National Leagues and thereafter you have to look to the South West League to find the next level of Cornish challengers in Camborne and St Austell. For a rugby heartland I would argue that is not good enough but without more money in the game per se, that is how it will remain.

So when the Championship clubs meet this week they have to do what Evans has proposed and "think outside the box". His proposals will meet with a multitude of objections for sure, but they are a line in the sand and a marker from which to move on. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

All eyes may be on Twickenham this weekend and England versus Wales, but while not in crisis yet, the game outside the top flight in England is in a complete financial mess. And you only have to look at the current state of Welsh club rugby to see what happens when such messes are not cleared up.

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  • FromMendip  |  March 08 2014, 12:54PM

    Some years ago Martin Johnson wrote in his autobiography that there should be no relegation from the Premiership and that the clubs then in it should remain and be ring fenced. He accepted that once big clubs such as Bristol and Coventry would forever remain in the wilderness in such a situation as they were then as now both out of the top tier. Whether he'd have been so keen on the idea if his beloved Leicester had been in the second tier at the time is not clear. Top English club rugby union, unlike football, is largely based away from the major cities. Some of the London Prem teams don't actually play their home games in the capital. Some of the top clubs at the moment come from relatively small cities such as Bath, Worcester, Gloucester, Exeter, Northampton and even Leicester is not one of England's eight core cities. The clubs that do play in the major English cities - currently Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle have clubs in the Prem - are not in the forefront of the sporting scene in those cities. So this is club rugby's problem: it's largely sited in smaller places or is of secondary sporting importance in the large cities where it does have a senior presence which means that it's never going to challenge even the top Championship clubs in football thus funding will inevitably suffer.

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