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Ealing have a ground fit for the Premiership if Irish slip up

Ealing have a stadium on standby and would be able to take a place in the Premiership if they can overhaul London Irish, according to rugby director Ben Ward.

It has been widely assumed that ambitious Ealing would be unable to meet the top-flight’s exacting criteria at their Vallis Way stadium – and that remains the case.

However, Ward insists an alternative ground has been audited by the RFU and would be given the green light to host Premiership rugby if Ealing beat the odds.

Ward told The Rugby Paper: “Irish are the favourites at the moment but if they were to slip up, I’m one hundred per cent certain we would be able to go up.

“We’ll be able to play at a ground. Nothing is signed yet but there is a deal agreed in principle in the event of winning promotion – and the RFU are aware of this.

“It’s been applied for, we’ve had the place where we’d play audited by the right people and it’s passed the criteria, so as far as we’re concerned, we meet it.”

While some leading figures in the Premiership are trying to push through ring-fencing and an increase to 13 teams this summer, with top-flight shareholders London Irish added to the existing 12 clubs, The Rugby Paper understands it is far from unanimous.

A number of top-flight officials harbour concerns over the unintended consequences of ring-fencing and an increase to 13 teams, with player welfare and the effect a lack of competition at the bottom of the league may have on attendances and TV viewing figures.

Championship clubs, Ealing among them, are threatening legal action and Ward says: “As far as we’re concerned, nothing has changed regarding promotion and relegation.

“We’re not going to break the bank by adding another £2m or £3m to our budget and do a London Welsh, but we’re developing and getting better and better each year. Our facilities are improving year-on-year, we’re developing an academy and we’ll keep doing that.

“We want to go to the next level and while there’s lots of talk of shutting people out, we should not be denied if we end up winning the league and earn that right.”

Ambitious: Ealing Trailfinders rugby director Ben Ward

Ward fears some Championship clubs could be bought-off by the Premiership in return for ring-fencing and potentially expanding the second tier to 14 teams.

He believes that would be misguided, arguing: “One of my fears is if there’s some sort of compensation offered to teams in the Championship to allow ring-fencing to happen.

“Some sides don’t want to go up, that maybe would consider taking a financial settlement to stop promotion and relegation for the next three, four or five years.

“I’ve heard about a 14-team or 16-team Champ- ionship as well, but I’m all for bettering the product and I don’t see how expanding the number of teams does that.

“If every team in our league was completely full-time you could expand, but until you get to that stage, you need to make the league stronger and closer to the Premiership.

“I’d look at a ten-team Championship of ambitious clubs who do want to go up so you could pool the funding to make teams stronger and help bridge the gap.”

NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Prime Media Images

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