Premiership face new relegation shake-up
London Irish's Premiership status is under threat after a controversial proposal being put forward by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to tackle relegation from the top flight of English rugby.
The news comes just days after Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy announced his exit from the club.
The RFU are understood to be leading a move to introduce a home and away playoff in May 2019 between the bottom team in the 12 club Premiership and the top team in the Championship. The winner will have a place at the top table of English rugby for at least five years. No more relegation would be instigated in that period to give the leading clubs financial stability and the chance to build new stadia or invest in their current venues.
England’s top clubs are making it clear that this is an RFU driven proposal that is expected to be on the agenda at next month’ Professional Game Board meeting at Twickenham which will see the Union, Premiership rugby and the Rugby Players Association present.
The ramifications of the proposed change could be extremely serious for London Irish who are rumoured to be losing £2.5m a season and can expect a drop of £2m in central funding if they are relegated.
Irish are currently ten points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership and Mick Crossan, the majority shareholder, is looking for new investors to help deal with the mounting losses.
However, attracting backers will be very difficult if Irish are doomed to spend five years in the Championship. The club recently turned down an approach to buy its shares in Premiership rugby which increases the amount of money shared out by the top clubs.
An extended period out of the top flight would also throw into question their proposed ground share with Brentford or a move to a new stadium being build by Wimbledon. They currently pay Reading FC rent to use the Madejski Stadium.
English club officials point out that the RFU can hardly stand against moves to bring in relegation from the Six Nations if they operate a similar system for the Premiership and this proposal would end that debate.