'Premiership 2' meets with strong resistance from Championship as Doncaster Knights sit tight

Clubs in the second tier of English rugby have been invited by the Rugby Football Union to bid for a place in a ‘Premiership 2’ from February, but the Championship - worn down by funding cuts from the governing body - is putting on a belligerent front.

A new professional game partnership (PGP) between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, which is set to be finalised in the new year, was revealed on Thursday. It is an effort by the sport’s powerbrokers to regenerate an English game that has seen four clubs go bust in the last 18 months and the national team spiral downwards, despite their run to the semi-finals of the recent World Cup.

The package of proposals includes reduced squad sizes in the Premiership, greater support for the welfare of players and a professionalised second tier of 14 clubs by the start of the 2025/26 season.

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Existing teams in the Championship - of which Doncaster Knights are one - will be invited to bid for a place in the new structure, but so will Wasps, Worcester, London Irish and Jersey Reds, the four teams who have gone out of business since the start of last season. It also opens the second tier up to other ‘franchises’ from anywhere in England who have the finances, stadium and facilities that meet the RFU’s criteria, and want a slice of the pie. The tender process opens in February.

Doncaster Knights of the Championship will be one of the teams invited to apply for a place in 'Premiership 2' (Picture: Tony Johnson)Doncaster Knights of the Championship will be one of the teams invited to apply for a place in 'Premiership 2' (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Doncaster Knights of the Championship will be one of the teams invited to apply for a place in 'Premiership 2' (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Of the existing 12 clubs in the second tier, there are perhaps only half who harbour the ambition and the means to operate professionally. If there is insufficient interest in a ‘Premiership 2’ then all funding to the Championship in its current form would be pulled by the RFU.

C lubs in the Championship currently get £160,000 a year in funding, which the governing body has been steadily cutting from £600,000.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said: “I know it’s a controversial topic, but where are you going to get that return on investment?

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“We’ve shown that if you pour money into the existing structure of the Championship, it just doesn’t deliver. That’s not being disrespectful, it just doesn’t.”

On Friday, the Championship responded: “First, we share the RFU’s desire to build a competitive and valuable second tier with all the ambition you need in a sporting competition. That is not possible for as long as Premiership Rugby Ltd and the RFU choose to maintain the current barriers to entry.

“Second, the significant underinvestment in our league over recent times – central funding cut by 75 per cent with no prospect of meaningful improvement – has left us self-reliant, self-funded and self-sustaining. This is the overall backdrop.

“The RFU has now chosen to criticise our attitude to their flawed proposals, which we do not believe represent a whole-game solution. Not only do we need a whole-game solution, but we need a whole-game response to the proposals laid out by the RFU, so in the New Year we will be making our views on the details – as far as we can ascertain them – of the Premiership 2 plan.

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“For now, we would like to repeat what we said on November 17, that the Championship clubs are not interested in a league that follows a franchise or selection-based model.”

For their part, Doncaster are understood to be neither for it or against it, at this stage.

They have long-since maintained their interest in being part of a more professional structure, but not at the risk of their own sustainability.

Sources at the club indicate they are willing to sit tight and await further details about the proposals.