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Dean Ryan: RFU have left second tier to wither

Dean RyanDean Ryan believes the Championship is in crisis and has called for an urgent review of how the Rugby Football Union is managing English rugby’s second tier.

Reacting to news that league rivals Plymouth Albion will plunge into administration unless £250,000 can be raised by Wednesday, Worcester boss Ryan has accused the RFU of failing to run the Championship professionally and allowing it to “die on the vine”.

Ryan told The Rugby Paper: “What’s happening at Plymouth is a pretty sad reflection on professional rugby. We’ve been doing it for a long time and if we can’t get two leagues that are financially moving in the right direction, as they have in France, it’s pretty poor.

“Two or three Championship clubs have tried to move up and down but a lot of the others are facing real financial troubles. Gates aren’t high but it’s not all about that, there are no real broadcast rights or central deals, so the league needs a really good look at.

“The Championship has spent a lot of time managing itself to the lowest common denominator instead of trying to manage itself up and it needs help doing that. But I’m not convinced the RFU is the right body to do that.

“They’ve let it die on the vine and from my experience of being six months into it, it needs a really good rebrand and a good re-understanding of what it’s about and how it’s going to finance its future, because a lot of clubs are living on the breadline.

“The RFU have got to look at how they support the Championship so that it’s vibrant and that people can come through it and get up. If that’s not what they want or they want to scrap promotion and relegation, then say it and do something different.”

The Championship was formed by the RFU in 2009 with the intention of creating a competitive, fully professional league below the Premiership.

To some degree it has succeeded, with dual- registration helping to progress the careers of England stars like Dan Cole, Joe Marler and Owen Farrell.

But funding remains low with clubs currently receiving just £380,000-a-year each, made up of EQP-related RFU funding, a £1m contribution from Premiership Rugby (PRL) and a minimal sum for live matches from Sky amounting to just £26,000 per club.

By contrast, Premiership clubs now command up to £4m in central funding and Ryan believes PRL would be better suited to running the Championship.

Ryan adds: “We’ve got to look at the second tier competition: what does it support, how do we want it to be and how do we finance the clubs properly?

“It needs to be professionally run and that is not coming from the RFU. If it is to be run by PRL, I’d be interested in holding conversations having had experience in it.

“At the moment the Championship feels like something everybody wants to get out of and leave behind, but if we want a vibrant Premiership that has a competitive bottom end, the sport has a responsibility to make the second tier work.”

Championship clubs’ chairman Geoff Irvine says Plymouth Albion’s plight should serve as a warning.

He told TRP: “I’ve been saying to the RFU and PRL for some time that there is a car crash waiting around the corner and it’s arrived.  We need help.”

NEALE HARVEY

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