The RFU’s director of professional rugby declares that the Championship is the “best option” for developing younger players.
This season’s A-League will see the number of regular season fixtures doubled to ten in an effort to provide more game time for budding stars, but The Rugby Paper recently revealed some clubs are pushing for a full 22-match programme.
That would impact hugely on Championship clubs who rely on dual-registration to bolster their squads, as well as National One outfits like Esher, Plymouth Albion, Ampthill and Moseley who are respected hotbeds of talent production.
Melville, right, whose controversial ‘buddy-up’ plan to partner top-flight clubs with Championship or National One counterparts hit the buffers last season, has challenged Premiership clubs to prove that expanding the A-League is preferable.
The former England scrum-half said: “To open up opportunities to play Championship rugby or to play in the A-League is very important, but I think the Championship is the best option for younger players because it’s on a Saturday, it’s highly competitive and you’re playing in a league where you learn to win.
“People talk about doing things (like expanding the A-League), but the proof will be in the eating of where that ends up. They’re going to try and expand it this year – good, that’s more playing opportunities for young players – but will it mean fewer players going into the Championship? Possibly, which may not be so good.”
Melville fears dual-registration in National One will also be impacted, after seeing Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe and Exeter scrum-half Jack Maunder start last season at Ampthill and Plymouth respectively and end it by playing for England in Argentina.
“We’ve got 18 or 19-year-olds who played in National One at the beginning of the year and pushed into Premiership first teams, which is exactly what Eddie Jones wants to see, and ended it by winning two Test matches against the Pumas.
“That to me is an indication that if you’ve got a really good lad it doesn’t matter about age, put them in the competition and let them have a go. The Championship and National One are proven pathways and that’s what happened.
“Eddie set a good example of saying these kids can do it and as long as you have exactly the right playing programmes, it works.”