Ealing Trailfinders are disputing the Rugby Football Union’s ruling that they cannot be promoted to the Premiership if they beat Saracens in the Championship final, insisting they have an agreement to use a stadium that has passed an official audit.
The RFU has told Ealing they have failed the minimum standards for promotion because they did not provide evidence they have met the stadium criteria. The Trailfinders argue, however, they are still waiting on key information from the RFU and Premiership Rugby before formally committing to a groundshare, but that they have met the criteria.
Ealing’s ground, Vallis Way – which hosts the first leg of the final on Sunday – can hold about 5,000 supporters. It is understood the Trailfinders had initially hoped to use QPR’s Loftus Road but that fell through. Ealing now have an agreement in place with a stadium big enough, and which has passed an RFU audit, but are reluctant to sign the contract formally before knowing how much funding they would receive as a non-shareholder in the Premiership.
The Premiership clubs consider that information sensitive but it is understood Ealing signed a nondisclosure agreement, only for meetings to be cancelled over the last few weeks. The Trailfinders would question how they can properly prepare for promotion without that information.
Complicating matters, the RFU council is set to vote on the future of promotion and relegation later this month, with the outcome likely to have an impact on the information Ealing are waiting for. The RFU insists Ealing were given an extension but did not meet the deadline to provide the necessary evidence.
Ealing have the right to appeal and it is thought they would have a good chance of success given an agreement for a bigger stadium is in place. In 2012, London Welsh initially failed because they did not have primacy of tenure at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium but were subsequently successful on appeal.
The RFU has also confirmed Saracens’s StoneX stadium has passed the criteria, despite undergoing development work which means it will not have the necessary capacity by the start of next season. The RFU has said its criteria allows for dispensation for clubs to reduce capacity for improvements and that Saracens applied for it while still in the Premiership.
Saracens are huge favourites to win the final but Ealing finished top of the regular Championship table with nine wins out of 10, and have earned a shot at promotion. The timing of the RFU’s decision has not gone down well given it has disrupted their preparations and the broadcasters – Premier Sports will show the first leg, BT Sport the second – are unlikely to be pleased given that there appears to be little riding on the final. The RFU insists that Saracens still need to win the final to be promoted.