RFU reject Guinness Premiership season extension

The Rugby Football Union have rejected Premier Rugby Limited’s (PRL) plans to extend the Guinness Premiership season for the upcoming season.

Premier Rugby Limited , the umbrella organisation for top-flight clubs, last week submitted a proposal for an extra six rounds of Premiership games from next season that would take place on weekends that had previously been set aside for for EDF Energy Cup games.

However as their meeting on Wednesday, the RFU’s management board unanimously rejected the plan and issued the following statement.

The Rugby Football Union Management Board discussed at its regular monthly meeting yesterday the effects of the recession on the RFU and clubs at all levels of the game.

The Chief Executive Francis Baron reported on the action being taken to assist clubs and to ensure that the RFU’s own cost base is reduced in line with likely falls in revenue.

The Board discussed an outline proposal received from Premier Rugby Ltd last Thursday to increase the number of Premiership matches by 36 next season. The Board also received reports from Elite Rugby Director Rob Andrew and RFU Finance Director Nick Eastwood following their meetings with PRL on the proposals this week.

The Management Board were unanimous in their view that the current proposals were not in the best interests of elite rugby for the following reasons:

* Implementation of the proposals would require a re-negotiation of the eight-year agreement that only came into force from July 1, 2008. Concerns were expressed over the integrity of the Guinness Premiership given the impact of the new proposals on relegation, Heineken Cup qualification and GP play-off qualification. One of the main goals of the new agreement was to reduce the overlaps and conflict between the club game and the International game.

* Concerns over player welfare and injury levels with no room for manoeuvre in the revised season structure. Player welfare was a top priority in the negotiations. There is a risk that these proposals will lead to the need for more midweek matches in the event of postponements and the impact on player welfare that this creates.

* Concerns over the impact of the proposals on the number of foreign players in the Guinness Premiership. One of the reasons for reducing the overlaps was to encourage the playing of English Qualified Players. Only four clubs have reached the threshold for EQP payments (an average of 14 of the match 22 to be English qualified) from next season.

* Concerns over the effects on the U20 and Academy programmes. It has been identified by all parties that there is a need to improve the playing development programmes for talented young English players. A combination of ‘A’ league, dual registration with Championship (currently First Division Rugby) clubs and an Anglo-Welsh Cup competition have been identified as the best way of achieving this. The number of EQPs playing in this year’s EDF Energy Cup are significantly higher than those in the Guinness Premiership.

* The proposals would not deliver a net financial benefit to clubs over alternative solutions which would not need a renegotiation of the new agreement. Based on the limited information made available to date by PRL, the proposals to change the season structure would only offer a marginal increase in revenues over and above those provided by the proposed successor to the EDF Energy Cup and a potential fourth autumn international in 2009.

* The proposals did not include any plans for material cost reductions and there are concerns that they could in fact increase costs.

The next quarterly meeting of the RFU Management Board and Chairman and Chief Executives of PRL clubs, under the new agreement, is due imminently.

The RFU is proposing that this meeting focuses on the economic situation and alternative solutions to help the clubs with their financial solutions.

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