Removing threat and ambition: why ring-fencing the Aviva Premiership is shortsighted

The Aviva Premiership finds itself at a crossroads. The subject of ring fencing is back on the agenda at Premiership Rugby once again. Allowing promotion and relegation only every five seasons could turn the best league in the world into a comfortable members club and plunge it towards mediocrity. Premiership Rugby are proposing a promotion relegation match between the top team in the Championship and the bottom team in the Premiership to determine which club plays in which league.

Will the games really matter?

It goes without saying that a Premiership without a trap door would greatly reduce competitiveness in the league. Without the threat of sliding out of the top tier, teams out of reach of the top four and european rugby may have little to play for. Take Worcester this season for example; their upturn in fortunes after a rocky start – including a heroic and unlikely win against Leicester at Welford Road – was born out of the looming threat of being dragged into a relegation battle with London Irish. If this threat wasn’t there, would they have had anything to play for?

An Aviva Premiership without relegation for five seasons would also mean a club could lose  the vast majority of their games for five years and still stay in the league if they won a play off. Is that just?

“It would empty clubs of all ambition”

What about the Championship?

The absence of the dream of promotion to the Aviva Premiership will also have a detrimental effect on the Championship. It would empty clubs of all ambition. This could also lead to a fall in investment into the league and also would probably cause attendances to dwindle.

All clubs yearn to better themselves, to move up to the next level. Removing promotion would eradicate this ambition, which is such a cornerstone of sport. Maybe the greatest Aviva Premiership story of all has been Exeter’s rise from the Championship to Aviva Premiership Champions. Ring-fencing the league would demolish future clubs’ aspirations to emulate the Devonshire club.

“Exeter have built on their success sustainably”

Ealing Trailfinders find themselves sitting second in the Championship with a very real prospect of promotion. Smaller, lesser known clubs should be encouraged to make the leap and not be denied it by the League’s governing body. Exeter have built on their success sustainably and still provide a glorious example to Championship clubs that rising to, and thriving in the Premiership is still very possible.

Without the prospect of promotion, it may be the case that large and ambitious clubs such as London Irish and Bristol become marooned in the Championship with nowhere to go. These are clubs with ambitious owners, large stadia and, more importantly, loyal fan bases who are deserving of challenging for Premiership status.

Luca O’Cleirigh

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