Bristol may get relegation reprieve from the Championship play-offs

Paul Rees
Doncaster Knights made contingency plans to play away from their Castle Park stadium if they won promotion last season but now prefer to compete at the top end of the Championship. Photograph: JMP/Rex/Shutterstock

Bristol will receive a relegation reprieve if Doncaster or Ealing Trailfinders win the Championship play-offs because neither club put itself through the Premiership’s entry-criteria process and so cannot be promoted.

Ealing play the first leg of their semi-final play-off against Yorkshire Carnegie in west London on Friday, while Doncaster host London Irish on Sunday. The two away sides this weekend have both met the criteria and if Carnegie and Doncaster both reach the final, Bristol will be relegated.

Last season Doncaster were in the play-offs but planned to play some of their matches at Doncaster Rovers’ ground if they won the final while their Castle Park stadium was upgraded, but following the collapse of London Welsh this season through debts built up during their two season-long stints in the Premiership, they decided the price of promotion was too high.

“We feel promotion is unaffordable and out of our reach in the current structure and financial arrangement for professional club rugby in England,” said Doncaster’s president, Tony de Mulder, and chief executive, David Ryall, in a joint statement. “Our preference is to continue to play expansive and winning rugby in the Championship rather than find ourselves bereft of the time and resources needed to construct a squad fit for Premiership competition where history has shown that the promoted side rarely prospers or survives.

“English professional rugby union is currently in a state of flux and there is much to be debated about the future of both the Championship and the Premiership. If and when the future of professional rugby in England becomes clear, then the ambition of Doncaster Rugby Club remains as fervent as ever but we will not cripple ourselves chasing something that is not feasible at this time.

“We owe it to our loyal supporters and players to strive for success on and off the field and believe this is more likely when competing at the top of the Championship than at the bottom of the Premiership.”

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