The Principality Premiership split was implemented this season to try and create competitiveness in a ring-fenced league, the change in structure however isn’t the right way forward and neither was last seasons new points trial. Our man Robert Rees looks at why the Premiership should stay a stable league, whilst keeping development as it’s goal.
The Welsh Premiership consists of 16 teams of which this year have been split into two tiers of eight, to battle it out for tier one’s premiership trophy and tier two to be the tier two champions, with no tangible reward yet in place it appears. This is apparently to help keep the league competitive according to the WRU and the head of rugby performance, Geraint John. Realistically the best way to improve development and keep the league as competitive as possible however is to take away the ring fencing that currently looms over the league and make it a simple one up and one down equation.
The current split also burdens Aberavon who led the table by 13 points above eighth placed Ebbw Vale, both of whom are now equal on points, as the split saw all teams return to zero points. Therefore all the hard work shown on the table by the Wizards is now nullified and they must start afresh, level with the team seven positions below them. Surely this isn’t right on the team who played the best over the first 15 games to have seven games left, where they are equal on points with the rest prior to any top four play-off begins.
Ebbw Vale RFC showed that ring fencing the Premiership isn’t the best option when a team is running away with the National Championship, as Pontypool RFC are doing now. To get the league as competitive as possible the WRU must get rid of the mid season split and bring back relegation and promotion. Have 16 teams battling it out inside the premiership for the title and to avoid relegation and the teams in the championship who declare their necessary A license can battle it out to gain promotion to the top division of Welsh semi-pro rugby.
This just adds on from the new points trialled out last season that saw multiple points changes and rule changes to attempt to get a more flowing game, but it just resulted in driving mauls. Another failure of a plan implemented on the Premiership.
Another concern of this split is some teams can end up with uneven home gates or long trips up North Wales to RGC1404 or for them, coming down to anyone, over a home game. Teams may also miss out on big crowd derby matches, with Ebbw Vale missing out on home gate receipts against teams of good travelling support such as Pontypridd and Merthyr. Invaluable income source for clubs.
The Principality Premiership split for this has in the eyes of most, been a failure and need change. Here’s what should happen in order to make the league a better all round league.
For the 2017/18 Premiership season it has to go back to 16 teams playing 30 fixtures and get rid of the mid-season split. Even if it means getting rid of the Fosters Challenge Cup, which frankly is coming a farce as many teams field full first sides over development sides, which was the aim of the cup.
Keep the scoring system the same as it is traditionally, not any of the six point tries that they had last season and bring back promotion and relegation. The 16th placed team goes down and the team who win the Championship, get promoted. Providing they have the A licence which covers criteria such as vital medical facilities, and the rather poor aspect of 1500 covered standing and seating area section.
Pontypool CEO, Ben Jeffreys, was against this ring-fencing from a Championship point of view, before it was known that Pooler would miss out on promotion it may be noted. He has been very magnanimous in Pooler finishing fifth last year, but for the development and competitiveness of Welsh rugby the Prem has to be opened up and changed to help the games community game grow and develop.
By changing these current rules the WRU can get the Semi-Pro game flowing again and in a real competitive nature, without having to force these phony rule changes or league split’s upon the clubs and fans. It would give the regional academy player a better environment than they currently have to develop, even if it’s not the ideal.
It would also make the fixture list a lot fairer across one season, with some clubs playing less home fixtures, the fans who pay into the system, pay for uncertainty. The point has been brought up that it evens up over several seasons, but fans pay for the season now, not next year. This way the clubs and fans all have the maximum financial gain from the league.
The WRU haven’t intentionally mucked around the game have they? Doesn’t seem likely, but they did plan to keep the current structure in place for the three ring fencing years at the time of the Prem launch. It needs re-thinking as it hasn’t really helped the players of clubs involved. The WRU do however need to respect the Premiership a bit more and keep it as a good league with values of promotion, fairness in fixtures and relegation and bring it back to a league that is fully competitive. As well as allowing the teams in the Championship to be as strong and competitive as they can be.