With constant speculation about the future of European rugby next season there have been plenty of rumours regarding how this might impact on the Aviva Premiership. Despite many of the clubs incurring significant losses on an annual basis the Aviva Premiership has emerged as the most stable of all the domestic club competitions in the Northern Hemisphere as wages spiral out of control in the Top 14 and the Pro 12 remains a model of instability.
Currently the Aviva Premiership operates with 12 teams competing on an annual basis, the team at the bottom of the table at the seasons end is demoted whilst the top 4 battle it out in the play-offs for the ultimate title of Premiership Champions. Since news broke of the potential collapse of the Heineken Cup however speculation has been rife that the domestic leagues in Europe could be about to change.
The issue now is that the Pro 12 in its current format stands on the brink of collapse, with the two Italian teams preparing to leave to join a domestic league whilst the welsh regions are threatening to boycott the competition. Stories have emerged about a potential Anglo-Welsh league being formed next year with a whole variety of formats being proposed, or even a full British and Irish league.
As it stands the proposed Anglo-Welsh league seems more like a threat to allow the regions to gain more independence from the WRU whilst the Premiership clubs are able to strengthen their stance in regard to a new European club competition. This posturing from the regions and Aviva Premiership looks likely to end soon with all the stories emerging from recent crisis meetings indicating that the clubs are set to come to a compromise sooner rather than later.
Whilst this points to domestic club competitions remaining as is, (apart from the possible exception of the Italians dropping out of the Pro 12) there have been a number of hints that we could be about to see a change to the current format of the Aviva Premiership.
The biggest indicator so far has been the strides Dean Ryan has made in signing top quality new recruits for Worcester ahead of next season. Despite the Warriors looking all but certain to finish bottom of the Aviva Premiership this season the calibre of signings currently being announced indicates they are expecting top-flight rugby next season.
The likes of Gerrit-Jan Van Velze, Sam Smith and Ryan Lamb, although now World beaters, do hint at a team aiming to push up the Premiership, not battle it out in the Championship. This is all on top of the recent announcement by Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy that he plans to stay at the Warriors beyond this season. In his interview he does not sound unduly worried about the potential of playing in the second-tier of English rugby next season.
Another side that have been building very strongly ahead of the new season is Championship side Bristol. Under Director of Rugby Andy Robinson Bristol have signed the likes of Dwayne Peel, Ryan Jones and Anthony Perenise who are all top quality players. These players have all made agreements to join Bristol despite there being no guarantee (at least that we know of) about them playing top-flight rugby next season.
This is obviously all just speculation at this stage, but with other Championship clubs looking strong this season there are no guarantees that Bristol will be promoted. Therefore this is either the actions of two clubs happy to splash the cash in the hope of future success, or the result of Premiership insiders knowing something that we don’t (yet).
Do you think we might be about to see some changes to the current Premiership Rugby model?