English rugby faces economic test
The Rugby Football Union may be forced to do away with promotion and relegation.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2009 22:19 GMT

The global financial crisis could have a big impact on English rugby [GALLO/GETTY]
An eight-year agreement between the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the English clubs could be torn up after less than a season because of the global financial crisis.

An RFU spokesman said on Monday all financial aspects of the game would be discussed at a meeting of the management board and Premiership clubs on Tuesday.

British media reports said automatic promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership would be one of the issues on the agenda.

"The union's policy is clear -- promotion and relegation is written into the contract for eight years," RFU management board chairman Martyn Thomas told reporters recently.

"That said, it's 100 years since we've faced an economic climate like this.

"We don't want to wreck this agreement one year in but we understand that the clubs are facing critical problems.

"We need a successful, solvent Premiership producing quality England players. Public hangings are exciting, just as long as you're not the bloke standing on the trap. We have to keep an open mind; it would be wrong to rule out anything."

Relegation fears

Many clubs already safely in the top flight might agree have argued that it is impossible to make financial plans while the spectre of relegation looms.

One theory is that the the clubs will request a suspension of promotion and relegation in return for a cut in the numbers of overseas players they register.

That might well appeal to the likes of Rob Andrew, now England's elite director of rugby, who spent many years fighting for the clubs in his role as Newcastle boss.

Fears of a thinning of English talent in the Premiership were fuelled when London club Saracens announced they would be sacking 15 players at the end of the season to make way for a group of South Africans expected to arrive with new coach Brendan Venter.

That announcement came days after England trio James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer said they would be leaving Wasps to join French clubs.

With England haemorrhaging points on the field and players off it, and the clubs looking at multi-million dollar losses despite growing attendances, both sides may feel justified in taking radical action.

However, Leeds Carnegie and Exeter, currently giving their all at the top National League One and no doubt with their own business plans based on potential promotion to the Premiership, might take a different view.

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