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Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Championship plan gains support

Northampton Saints playing London Welsh in National One
Northampton won promotion from National League One in 2008

Members of the Rugby Football Union's council have backed setting up a new professional 12-team Championship to replace National League One.

Earlier the umbrella body for National League One clubs, First Division Rugby, had called the prospect of the new championship "financial suicide".

But six League One clubs subsequently gave the proposal their support.

The RFU said the vote to support the formation of a new competition was carried by an "overwhelming majority".

Coventry, Doncaster, Exeter, London Welsh, Nottingham and Plymouth Albion were the teams who sent a memo to the RFU council urging them to vote in the change.

It concluded: "We sincerely request your support in moving the development of level two rugby into the professional era without further delay."


The RFU believe the Championship is "the way forward" for English rugby, but FDR chairman Geoff Irvine responded by stating he was "amazed" the RFU had made the memo public "on behalf of a minority group of six clubs".

Under the RFU's plans, the leading Division One sides this season would become Championship founder members - if they agree to turn professional.

The relegated Guinness Premiership club would also be invited to join.

Championship teams would then play 22 league games per season, with eight top clubs playing off for one promotion place.

The plan also retains promotion and relegation to and from the Championship from the division below, allaying fears the top two divisions are to be ring-fenced.

12 teams, down from 16
22 regular season games
Promotion and relegation play-offs
RFU funding, salary cap and minimum ground requirements

The Championship would receive 2.3m per year from the RFU for two years, plus 1m from Premier Rugby (PRL) - the body representing Guinness Premiership clubs - for eight years.

They would also get sponsorship and a share of the RFU's new five-year TV rights deal with Sky.

The first Championship line-up would include those clubs finishing in second to 11th places in National League One this season, plus the relegated Premiership team and the promoted National Two outfit.

All clubs hoping to take part in the division would be subject to a salary cap and will have to meet minimum ground requirements.

Promotion from the Championship would be determined via end-of-season play-offs involving two groups of four teams, drawn from the top eight in the league, culminating in a single winner, who would go up to the Premiership.

The bottom four would play each other home and away in a relegation play-off pool, with the last-placed team after six rounds of matches switching divisions with the top team from the third tier, which would be renamed National Division One.

CHAMPIONSHIP - 12 teams, one up, one down
NATIONAL ONE - 16 teams (five not included in Ch'ship, nine from National Two, one up from National Three North, one up from National Three South)
NATIONAL TWO - 32 teams in two leagues, divided into North and South (clubs from existing National Three)
NATIONAL THREE - Four leagues (London, Midlands, North, South West), clubs from existing National Three and below)

Below the third tier, National Division Two would comprise two 16-team leagues split into North and South, with four regional Division Threes.

"The Championship will be a vital part of the structure of English rugby," said RFU chairman Martyn Thomas.

"Now is the time to establish its rightful place. The RFU is fully committed to funding and supporting a professional and robust league, with minimum entry criteria and a salary cap, that will support the Guinness Premiership."

But FDR and PRL say that under the deal finally agreed between the clubs and the RFU earlier this year, following years of in-fighting in English rugby union, it is up to the organisation representing the Division One clubs to make any proposals concerning their future.

And they have also accused the RFU of refusing to discuss the new proposals with the Professional Game Board (PGB), which was set up to discuss issues affecting the English game.

PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty said: "New competitions cannot be forced through unilaterally against the wishes of their proposed participants.

"It's a nonsense if the PGB and its expertise is being bypassed and it would be in serious conflict with the new agreement."

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see also
Plan could kill club game - Dawe
12 Nov 08 |  English
Dawe slams RFU over league delay
31 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Fears over RFU funding 'changes'
04 Sep 08 |  English

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