The Rugby Football Union announced on February 12 that no team will be relegated from the Gallagher Premiership this season due to the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision comes after a “strong majority vote” according to the RFU. Many have criticised the decision, however the potential for Premiership teams to grow from this can’t be underestimated.
Rugby fans across the land have voiced their concern over the possibility of the league becoming less entertaining as any team without top six aspirations will essentially have nothing to play for, and teams who can’t breach the upper end of the table will remain stagnant and lessen the competition at the top. This decision has also seen comparisons to Super Rugby which many Premiership fans feel is not as strong a league due to a lack of relegation and competitiveness throughout the league.
Whilst fan concerns are certainly justified, no one wants to watch or support a boring and uncompetitive league, with no threat of relegation teams at the lower end of the table can now shift their main priority from serving relegation to instead improving the team and building for the future.
Of the last ten teams to earn promotion to the Premiership from the Championship eight were relegated the season before, and every team to be relegated in the last four years won promotion at the first time of asking. These statistics as well as the recent forced relegation of Saracens begin to suggest that promotion to the Premiership after relegation almost seems as if it is a formality.
The example of Exeters rise from the lower divisions is often used as an example to combat the removing of relegation in the championship but when you assess how the gap has grown between Premiership Rugby and rugby in the lower leagues, both in quality of rugby but particularly finiancially, the likelihood of a different club having similar success is considerably low.
With each relegation a club has to accept that they will miss out on all the commercial revenue of the Premiership and stunt possible signings as well as the real possibility of losing some of the clubs top players. The possibility of relegation imposes such a culture of uncertainty that no team faced with it’s threat can fully flourish.
Removing threat of relegation can completely change the philosophy of a whole club, they can sign players who might have potentially not wanted to risk the possibility of a season in the Championship, and equally importantly they can bring young players into the first team set up which is often seen as a positive of playing Championship rugby.
Worcester Warriors, who currently sit just one point above the relegation zone and have been relegated twice from the Premiership have openly supported the decision labelling it both “sensible” and “pragmatic”.
This season clubs nearer the bottom of the table will now be able to safely implement their own style of play, not just attempt to grind out victories and earn bonus points but play to improve their players and help the squad grow.
With time the positive affects of this decision by the RFU will show. The Premiership and the clubs it consists of will relish this opportunity to create their own identity and brand of rugby which fans of the sport will be incredibly grateful for in the seasons to come.