Life in the Championship is tough. Tough enough without the cuts of over £3m imposed by the RFU yesterday. The response, understandably, has been one of outrage, with various individuals accusing the RFU of guaranteeing Premiership ringfencing, forgoing their duties to lower leagues, and removing all competition from the English structure.
Will Stuart, who has come up through the league structure, with loans Blackheath, Moseley and Nottingham, to take his current place in Eddie Jones’s England squad, called the cuts “pure garbage” on social media.
The Jersey Reds chairman, Mark Morgan, called the cuts “immoral and irresponsible”, adding: “With Bill Sweeney’s heralded business background, this is astonishingly poor execution.”
Likewise, the Cornish Pirates and Coventry released a joint statement which read: “For the RFU to use their own failure to deliver as a justification for unilaterally decimating the Championship is nothing short of outrageous, not least because it has come from people – Bill Sweeney and Conor O’Shea – who have been in post for only a short time.”
“It’s the RFU saying it doesn’t want the Championship,” the Nottingham chairman, Alistair Bow, said. “The Premiership has had a lot of influence over all the decisions regarding the Championship, certainly for the 10 years I’ve been involved. I do strongly believe the actions the RFU has taken have handed PRL everything on a plate and without having to pay a penny for it. The RFU has handed English professional rugby … everything, to the hands of PRL.”
These are stern words indeed. Former Bedford Blues and Canada player, Justin Blanchet, forced to retire after suffering his fourth concussion in 12 months at just 26 years of age, told The Guardian this week, “There is a feeling, particularly in the Championship, of whether it is all worth it,” says Blanchet. “I became frustrated with rugby. I was giving up so much of my body, my mind and emotion. Most Championship players are on significantly less than people may think.”
Blanchet’s words have been echoed around the game. People give their physical and mental all to rugby, the decision by the RFU to cut funds below the elite level shows they neither care about nor respect this effort. Rugby is increasingly orientated towards the top.
In and amongst the fury, there have been moves mooted. There is talk, reportedly, of attempting to join the Pro 14, or perhaps buying out the Championships rights and removing it from RFU control. This is all talk at the moment. However, with job losses a direct result of the cuts, and the RFU seemingly offering no justification, mitigation or accountability, the outrage is justified.
The timing is also ridiculous. England’s Six Nations campaign has been stop start enough without the RFU manufacturing such a problem for itself. Expect protests, and rightly so.
Written by Joe Ronan