Teams could be promoted to Premiership with stadium capacity of 5,000

Leicester's Phil Cokanasiga evades a tackle by Dan Lancaster to score a try
Ealing Trailfinders gave Leicester a scare in last season's Premiership Rugby Cup and won the Championship again, but were denied promotion - Getty Images/Warren Little

Championship clubs have removed one of the main hurdles to promotion to the Premiership after the Rugby Football Union agreed to significantly alter the minimum-standards criteria.

There has been no promotion or relegation between the top two tiers of English rugby since Saracens returned to the Premiership in 2022.

Under the present system, only teams that have a ground capacity of at least 10,001 or who can secure planning permission to increase their capacity are eligible for promotion to the top tier.

In effect this means that only Doncaster Knights, who finished sixth and 25 points behind champions Ealing, could have gone up last season.

However, Telegraph Sport understands that Championship clubs have now won a significant concession following a RFU council meeting on Friday. From the start of next season, teams with a minimum capacity of 5,000 will be eligible for promotion as long as they have a four-year plan to increase their capacity to 7,500 and eventually 10,000.

Play-off against Premiership’s bottom team

Should the Championship’s top-placed side meet this criteria they would then enter a home and away play-off against the Premiership’s bottom team for the right to play in the top tier for the 2025-26 season.

Significant obstacles remain, particularly in relation to funding, but Simon Halliday, the chairman of the Championship clubs, hailed a breakthrough following a long and often fractious period of negotiations with the RFU and Premiership Rugby. “It is a serious shift,” Halliday told Telegraph Sport. “We now have a mechanism which allows teams, for the first time in years, to access the play-off to determine promotion and relegation.

“The fact they have given us four years to reach the 10,000 overall capacity removes some of the capital intensive requirements in the early years which is what we wanted to see. At the beginning of next season, a number of our clubs will be in the mix to go into a play-off and I think that is a material change in what we are looking at now.”

Under the new regulations, Ealing Trailfinders, who have won the Championship in two of the past three seasons, and Coventry would become eligible for promotion in addition to Doncaster Knights. In the long term, Halliday believes that the lowering of the drawbridge will “light the touchpaper for all aspirational clubs” whether in the Championship or the National Leagues.

Rebranded second tier ‘should be should galvanised’

The RFU Council also confirmed that a new Tier 2 board will take responsibility for the governance and commercial management of the Championship, which is likely to be rebranded. Halliday does not pretend that every issue has been resolved but believes that the biggest barrier has been removed to creating a vibrant second tier in English rugby.

“There’s no doubt that the odds are still stacked against Championship clubs but you have got to open the door and then you can see how far you can get once you are through it,” Halliday said. “Of course, you can aspire to getting a lot more things put right but you are dealing with 15-20 years of embedded behaviour at the top end of our game which we are trying to unwind in a short period of time.

“Before it was a meaningless division to be in because you can finish top and nothing happens. Look at this year. It should galvanise the whole of the second tier and below and create some genuine jeopardy for the lower end of the Premiership.”

The RFU Council also rubberstamped the Professional Game Partnership, which includes hybrid contracts for England internationals, with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association.