As Cornish Pirates and London Welsh ready themselves for the Twickenham double event on May 23 and 30, they both do so knowing that there is a very high possibility that if they do succeed it may ultimately be in vain.
The 'entry criteria' set out by the RFU and Premiership Rugby which forms the prerequisite for progression to the English game's top flight is there for a reason - of course it is - and you don't need Oval Talk to point out the minutiae of the lengthy document which outlines all its logic and reasoning, but should there not be a helping hand (from the profiting governing bodies) for the teams who work so hard to achieve on the pitch?
Rugby is a business, like other high profile elite sports, but for such a long time the game's proponents have prided themselves on the good nature of the sport and its community values. That a team should not be able to take its place at English rugby's top table regardless of its talents and efforts, proven throughout the course of a campaign, is a hard concept to break down.
Equally as difficult to justify is that a team should survive relegation based on another's 'entry criteria' shortcomings. Having a system of promotion and relegation only works if it is consistent and if the teams are safe in the knowledge that success or failure will result in a definite outcome.
All in all the principles of stability which are supposed to be the underpinning factors of an 'entry criteria' system are rendered redundant by such an irregular format.
Now we have two teams in Cornish Pirates and London Welsh - only one of which (the latter) has a realistic hope of perhaps meeting the criteria — who have come within a whisker of earning the right to play amongst the Premiership's teams, having jumped through all the hoops required, but who could well be denied entry to the top level. Cornish never even put themselves forward for the RFU's Premiership entry audit, which is an entirely different matter altogether.
And then there's Newcastle. While nobody wants to see them drop out of the top flight, that's what their league performances this year merit. Despite that, they may continue to play Premiership rugby next season anyway.
Could the promoted team survive in the Premiership financially? Could they compete with the crème de la crème of English rugby? Could they possess some young talents ready to tackle full internationals and more than stand their ground, even proving themselves to be international material in the process?
It is very likely we may not even be afforded the opportunity to find out, for next season at least.
- Sports & Recreation