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Plans for conference-style system in the Championship leads to talks at RFU

Ed Griffiths - Saracens

ED GRIFFITHS hopes his plan to restructure Championship rugby will help end “the Punch & Judy” style politics that has dogged English rugby since the game went professional.

As revealed in The Rugby Paper last week, Griffiths’ 76-page document contains some innovative ideas to make the Championship first-class in its own right and not just second-best to the Premiership.

Griffiths met with RFU CEO Bill Sweeney and director of performance rugby Conor O’Shea on Thursday and is in the process of arranging further meetings with Premiership Rugby Limited and other key stakeholders.

Designed to be implemented in time for the 2021/22 season, Griffiths knows time is against him to get everybody on board. 

“The response to the model has been very positive so far. People can see there are benefits not only for the Championship but also for English rugby in general,” he told TRP.

“If we are aiming for a 2021/22 start, we don’t have time to lose so we have to keep moving forward. We have to start formal discussions with PRL clubs, the NCA, BUCS and other stakeholders. Hopefully, by the end of August, we’ll have something we can guarantee.

“The tone of our proposal is very collaborative. We recognise that the last 25 years of rugby in England has been characterised by too much in-fighting; too much time and energy has been wasted on a Punch & Judy show and we need to work with people.

“We’ve been proactive, hopefully, in putting together an innovative model for discussion. Lots of people say the timeline is too tight, and time will tell if that’s the case.”

The 12 Championship clubs have given former Saracens CEO Griffiths a mandate to press ahead with a conference-based model that would start at 12 teams with the potential to grow to 16.

Griffiths’ blueprint retains promotion and relegation with the Premiership and National One but based on a set of criteria rather than exclusively on performance.

This could stymie Ealing Trailfinders’ ambitions to reach the top tier.

“Ealing have expressed some concerns with some elements of the plan as have lots of clubs,” Griffiths said. “But the mandate to continue to negotiations with third parties and bring back a final plan at the end of August was unanimous.

“I don’t think Ealing wanted to stop the process, in fact they were eager for the process to continue and were very complimentary about the quality of the report.

“My position on the report is not that we’ve been up the mountain and come down with tablet of stones. We’ve put a model on the table which hopefully will stimulate discussion.”

Griffiths, who is acting as a consultant for the league, has also put forward the case for a National Cup competition in a fixture list that will be more streamlined and varied for commercial reasons and in the interests of player welfare.

“I think, initially, a Cup competition would only involve Levels 2 and 3 because we’d be concerned about standards, it needs to be a competitive competition. 

“Having spoken to broadcasters and sponsors, they like the romance of a cup competition with an open draw. It has been successful in the past and it could be successful again in the future.”

JON NEWCOMBE

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