The RFU has announced there will be no relegation from the Gallagher Premiership at the end of the season and that the league will be expanded to 13 teams for 2021-22.
The Rugby Football Union Council voted with a “strong majority” on Friday for a temporary suspension of relegation, which will also extend to the Championship, with no team going down to National League One.
The governing body says that, as long as the winner of this season’s Championship is eligible for promotion under the RFU’s current Minimum Standards Criteria, the 2021-22 season will consist of 13 teams in the Premiership and 11 in the Greene King IPA Championship.
The Council made the move after taking into consideration the impact of Covid-19 on the game.
Premiership Rugby statement: RFU Council approve moratorium on relegation from Gallagher Premiership Rugby for the 2020-21 season – promotion stays https://t.co/IuOVBDh9pU
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) February 12, 2021
The cancellation of Saturday’s Premiership game between Northampton and Newcastle takes the number of fixtures lost to the pandemic to six so far this season and the RFU fears the impact could mean relegation is based on cancellation not on field merit.
RFU, Premiership Rugby and Championship representatives will now work on recommendations for changes to the season structures from 2021-22 and officials say the moratorium on relegation could last for three or four years.
They say the aim is for a different approach to promotion and relegation which will recognise the ambition of clubs in the Championship and below and continue to allow a route to the Premiership.
😔 Saturday’s @premrugby game with Newcastle has been cancelled.
Sending our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those affected @FalconsRugby 🙏
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) February 12, 2021
Officials will discuss new minimum standard criteria and a review of the domestic calendar to allow additional preparation time for the England men’s team ahead of the 2023 World Cup.
RFU president Jeff Blackett said: “The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game.
“We want to ensure a healthy elite game to support successful winning England teams that generate income to stimulate and preserve the game across all levels.
“The Council will continue to be closely engaged with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.”
Premiership Rugby says the new structure has the unanimous support of the top-flight clubs.
Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: “We welcome today’s decision and thank the RFU Council members for their support.
“The priority for everyone involved has been to protect the long-term sustainability and success of English professional rugby for the fans and clubs who have endured huge financial and sporting challenges throughout the last two seasons.
“The progress being made collaboratively with all our key stakeholders across the sport has been fantastic.
“Our focus remains on continuing to strengthen that alignment through transparency and dialogue around the long-term success of the game at a domestic and national level in England.”