Stability within the Welsh Premiership has been a rarity over the past few seasons but to attain it’s goal of being a platform between semi-pro and professional rugby it must be given time and space to achieve stability.
Inconsistent League Structure Doesn’t Aid Welsh Premiership Stability
The Principality Premiership has seen a variety of changes over the last few years that has seen the league rise from a 12 team format to a 16 team one.
The league has seen the introduction and demise of a World Rugby trial period that saw six points for a try awarded as well as two points for a penalty or drop goal.
After consulting with Clubs and players it was then decided to scrap the new scoring system and go back to the more traditional five points for a try and three for kicks (excluding conversions).
The 2016-17 season saw the introduction of a mid-season split.
This saw the top and bottom eight teams divide into conferences. They then only played against the teams within that conference, causing issues over fixture security post split, thus plunging some teams in financial troubles that continue to this day.
East and West Conference Split
The 2017-18 season is due to kick off on August 26th and with yet more changes to the leagues’ structure.
The WRU has split the 16 teams into eight eastern sides and eight western. They will then play their own conference home and away.
The top four from each conference after these games will go through to a top eight league that will battle it out for the title. The title will be decided after the top four in this group battle it out in a play-off system.
The bottom four sides from each conference will also drop into a division of eight, but will only contend for 9th place.
There is no relegation or promotion again this year.
Lack Of Stability Leading To Financial Worry For Some Clubs
Some clubs highlighted their financial plight towards the end of last year with Bedwas and Pontypridd holding meetings and reaching out to supporters for extra income.
Ebbw Vale have increased their season ticket costs to help pay for the day to day running of clubs.
The conference system does at least guarantee 21 games in the league without any play-offs or cup games included. This means that the worry over income is aided slightly.
As on and off the field costs continue to rise clubs are forced to look into non-match day revenue, such as hiring out their clubhouse for private gigs or functions. Pontypridd hiring out the grandstand function rooms for a darts competition last weekend highlights how some already utilise this method but it isn’t always possible for some clubs, who may not own their club-house.
If sides can’t run their business easily without worrying over financial crises then how can it be expected of them to be able to properly prepare or help in the preparation of the academy players.
WRU CEO, Martyn Phillips, has outlined the aim of the Principality Premiership as a league to ”encourage a flow of players from our international age group sides, exiles and colleges into the Premiership to give supporters a chance to see our future stars……We also want the league to be a stage for late developing players who may have missed out on academy rugby.”
In order to do this the league must be given stability, consistency and proper aims to drive towards.
WRU Must Set Goals In Order For The Premiership To Thrive
It is no good going into every league campaign knowing that as a player, coach, club-man or supporter you can be safe in the knowledge that your side will not get relegated.
With ring-fencing firmly in place for the next few years according to Geraint John at the 2016-17 season launch, the league must now start preparing for a long term future.
This means settling in a format of fixtures that will be employed annually, even if this means 16 teams, home and away fixtures and scrapping the rather diminished Challenge Cup.
The WRU must understand that crowd figures are dipping on a whole within the Premiership, partly due to a lack of stability for supporters in knowing when their team is playing. Sympathy must be given to supporters who don’t have the opportunity to see their club play for over a month post-Christmas.
Clubs do not need to accept any academy products and nor do the four regions need to commit to giving out any players, all of which are free of charge and mostly get paid match fee’s by the clubs for their travel costs etc.
This would be against what the league is aimed at and so it would be best for the clubs, Regions and the WRU to sit down and suggest that players who are allocated to clubs will stay there unless they perform to a standard worthy of a regional call-up.
This happens more in the autumn and spring international windows when the Regions require back-up for internationals lost to their respective countries but when clubs have a player one week then don’t get him back until several weeks later it helps neither the player, the club or the Region in the development process.
If the WRU resolve these major issues out it’ll go a long way to closing the gap between the clubs and the Regions.