Opinion: Ealing’s non-promotion to Premiership leaves English rugby on shaky ground

·5-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have released a statement informing that the Ealing Trailfinders have withdrawn their appeal against the RFU’s decision to deny them promotion to the Premiership after finishing top of the Championship.

The governing body’s call was made on the grounds that Trailfinders Stadium’s approximate capacity of 5,000 did not match the Professional Game Board (PGB) Minimum Standards Criteria of 10,001 despite clubs like Worcester and Sale playing home to seas of empty seats well below the 10,001 mark.

Instead of hastily developing their stadium before the 2022/23 season to help their chances, the Trailfinders said in a statement put out on Friday that they believe that “the number of spectators for promoted clubs must be grown sustainably and over time so that promoted sides or those with ambitions for promotion are not forced either into speculative, rapid, unsustainable and unnecessary spending”.

Despite conceding and dropping their appeal, the club still describes their desired place in the Premiership as “rightful” and claim they will be “more committed and passionate than ever in becoming a successful Premiership club”.

How would Ealing fare in the Premiership?

If we lived in a world where the PGB’s standards did not inhibit the east London side from claiming promotion to the Premiership it is almost certain that they would be relegated if not for the ring-fenced year included in the RFU’s COVID recovery plan due to a lack of player quality on the squad.

Perhaps if they had won the Championship by more than a three-point margin over Doncaster Knights then they would have stood a better chance, but the fact remains that Ealing’s squad would come nowhere near the level of even the worst Premiership side Bath, who feature international rugby players like Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Sam Underhill, Ben Spencer, Jonathan Joseph and Joe Cokanasiga to name but a few high quality players.

It is not just the fixtures against far stronger, established top flight sides that would hinder Ealing as the Premiership comes nowhere close to the football equivalent except for finals and the other rare games played at the likes Twickenham, leaving the Championship with next to no fans and even poorer infrastructure.

Unfortunately for Ealing, they’re also in an area surrounded by three existing Premiership sides in Harlequins, Saracens and London Irish, who all play west of the capital, meaning that it will be hard for them to grow their fan base in such a rugby-saturated area.

This means that they would struggle with revenue from ticket sales as the established London sides have capitalised on the existing rugby fan market in the area.

Meritocracy needed, but at what cost

It must be incredibly degrading for Ealing to be denied promotion after proving to be the best team in their division; in their eyes and the eyes of many they have earned a spot in the Premiership through becoming champions.

This place among the top-flight clubs will not come into fruition sadly for the Trailfinders due to the prior mentioned PGB standards not being met by the club.

In the long run, this will hinder English rugby as the drop off between the two top leagues continues to grow because how can Championship sides like Ealing aim for sustainable growth if a ceiling is forced upon them by the RFU?

If a true meritocratic system was put in place, like in years past, where the worst team from the Premiership gets relegated and the best team from the Championship gets promoted, not everyone would be smiling.

Yes, it would be fantastic to see Ealing promoted having earned their spot, but would it not do more harm than good to see another team relegated only to pop straight back up again like Newcastle Falcons and London Irish have done more recently?

Instead of this yo-yo like system, “a play-off in the 2023/24 season between the club finishing bottom of the Premiership and the winner of the Championship” was agreed upon by the RFU as part of the COVID recovery plan on the conditions that the PGB standards were met by the hopeful team.

If we take away the standards, would this not be the best way to operate going forward with a play-off fixture between the two leagues?

This way clubs like Ealing can prove their belonging by beating the worst of the bunch as a means of winning entry to the Premiership whilst also saving clubs from pointless relegations.

Unfortunately for Ealing they’ve missed their window of opportunity as the RFU plan agreed upon a “2022/23 season in which no side will be relegated from or promoted to the new 14-team Premiership”.

This was to allow the promoted team to settle and plan for the future without worry of relegation, but the PGB Minimum Standards Criteria not being met by Ealing means that the Premiership will stay at 13 teams and promotion will not be an option next season.

Looking to the future, the PGB will be reviewing their standards regarding capacity, which could possibly enable Ealing a chance in the Premiership, but the decision will be made next season.

The future of the English league system is looking very shaky and will need further RFU intervention to help smaller clubs and create a degree of meritocracy.

READ MORE: Premiership: Harlequins strike late to beat Leicester, Wasps thump Worcester and Northampton snatch win at Bath

The article Opinion: Ealing’s non-promotion to Premiership leaves English rugby on shaky ground appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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