English rugby in more strife as Championship winners cease trading

Jersey Reds won the English second tier last season  (Getty Images)
Jersey Reds won the English second tier last season (Getty Images)

English rugby looks set for more strife after Jersey Reds, winners of the second-tier Championship last season, confirmed that they had ceased trading.

The Channel Island club confirmed on Thursday morning that they were set for liquidation and admitted that they would be unable to pay their September salaries to players and staff.

The news comes after a disastrous year for professional rugby in the country, with three Premiership clubs (Wasps, Worcester Warriors and London Irish) entering administration in the last 12 months and the English top flight set to begin with only ten teams next month.

The news of trouble at Jersey, who upset Bath in the Premiership Rugby Cup two weeks ago, comes amid ongoing uncertainty over the future shape, structure and funding of the English second tier and is likely to bring renewed questions about the support of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) for the Championship, which the governing body operates.

“We had been able to start the season and maintain sufficient funds to cover the summer, but regret that our conversations with potential new investors as well as existing ones have been unsuccessful,” said Mark Morgan, Jersey’s chairman.

“At one stage at the end of last season it appeared there was a viable way forward for the second tier once the new Professional Game Agreement was implemented from summer 2024, but Championship clubs have been left in the dark since that point and this led to a growing fatigue among those who may have invested, but could not be given any concrete assurance about when the new structure would come in, or how it would be funded.

“There are a large number of players, coaches and other members of staff who have made huge contributions to the club in recent seasons, and we regret that the massive effect this will have on all of them – it’s a very sad day.”

Jersey pipped ambitious Ealing Trailfinders to the Championship title last season, but missed out on promotion to the Premiership.

The club did not put themselves forwards for assessment by the RFU having been unlikely to be able to meet the body’s strict eligibility criteria for elevation to the top tier.

Ealing also failed to evidence that they could meet the minimum standards criteria, with Doncaster Knights, who finished sixth, the only club in the league eligible for promotion.

Jersey had been due to take on Cornish Pirates in the Premiership Rugby Cup on Friday night.

The RFU is already facing an internal revolt with the leadership of Bill Sweeney, chief executive, and Tom Ilube, chair, called into question at a recent council meeting.

Sweeney was accused of being “asleep on the job” while appearing in front of a DCMS select committee hearing after the demise of Worcester and Wasps last November.

Premiership Rugby has subsequently formed a sporting commission with support from the RFU and the government to improve and strengthen the governance of the league.

In a statement, the English governing body denied Jersey’s accusation that they had left Championship clubs in the dark on future funding.: “The RFU has been informed that Jersey Reds has taken the decision to cease trading following unsuccessful discussions with both existing and potential new investors. We, like their players, staff and supporters are deeply concerned by this news. The RFU is working with the Rugby Players Association to support the players.

“It is extremely disappointing that investors would take decisions at this early point in the season to place the club in such a position. Championship clubs had clear confirmation from the RFU on funding for the 2023/24 season and we have been working with the Championship and Premiership Rugby on the new Professional Game Partnership and shape of Premiership 2 with funding levels to be confirmed at the end of this calendar year. The Championship has been fully involved in these discussions since February which are aimed at stabilising and strengthening the professional game.

“This news will clearly impact the season for the Championship league and Premiership Rugby Cup competition, which was introduced this season as a way to offer a new format to supporters, bringing with it the experience of playing Premiership sides and the opportunity to welcome new fans into Championship clubs and assist them to grow new audiences.

“Further information on the impact of this to the Premiership Rugby Cup and Championship League season will follow.”