It may be a while before we see London Welsh in the Premiership again, given the unequal struggle it has been since they toppled Bristol in the Championship play off final last year.
The fact the second leg was played on June the 4th merely compounded the Exiles’ need for breakneck speed recruitment ahead of the new season with all the top talent already accounted for. The net result so far has been 14 defeats out of 14, and only two games lost by fewer than 20 points. The gap has been a chasm.
This season, the side promoted from the Championship – and I appreciate there is still some way to go – OUGHT to be Bristol or Worcester, with the gap below second place standing at 21 points. Both clubs would expect to have a decent chance of survival if they come up.
The fact that two such teams are outside the Premiership made me wonder if England could mirror France and actually have a Top 14, although it must be said that the depth in interest in the game appears greater across the channel, with five teams Gloucester have played in Europe (Agen, Biarritz, Bougoin, Colomiers and Perpignan) all now playing in the second tier.
The case for Worcester AND Bristol to be at the top table is strong. Steven Lansdown at Ashton Gate and Cecil Duckworth at Sixways have both invested heavily, and their supporter bases are decent. Bristol have been getting over 7,000 at home games and Worcester over 5,000 which compares favourably with the likes of Newcastle and Sale.
You may call it a fanciful idea, but I think there is an argument for adding the Championship’s top two to the 11 established Premiership clubs and pulling up the relegation drawbridge for a period of (say) 5 seasons. The big question would surround who would be the 14th team.
London Welsh would argue they deserve to be in the mix. They do, and they would probably back the traditional solution of deciding it on the field, with the best team winning the place.
A different approach, especially with a lot of talk in cricket at the moment about franchises for a T20 tournament, would be to look at a team in an area currently unrepresented in the Premiership. Wasps’ move to the Ricoh Arena is a franchise in all but name given the distance from their original home, which to me leaves two traditional rugby areas that could be considered.
Leeds Carnegie went down in 2011, and now, as Yorkshire Carnegie, they are one of three Yorkshire teams in the Championship alongside Rotherham and Doncaster, and there is already talk of a merger between those two.
Rugby League continues to have greater appeal in the area but at the moment the three teams would draw 5,000 spectators between them on a Saturday and Headingley’s double sided main stand, which backs onto the cricket ground, is to be extensively renovated.
The relative health of the economy to the east of the Pennines may also edge the area’s case over Cornwall, where the Pirates also compete in the Championship before a drop of two levels to Launceston and Redruth.
I have heard numerous stories of financial feast and famine in Cornish rugby over the years and it’s true there is no great centre of population but talk of a “stadium for Cornwall” in Truro is still prominent and you wonder if that might be the catalyst for an area I’ve seen take 20,000 supporters to Twickenham for a county final.
Whichever way you look at it, any such idea – and there have been mutterings about it in the media – is not likely to be quickly implemented, and above all it WOULD stop a smaller club who found a backer making their way naturally up the pyramid. The evidence of the last decade, however, suggests such individuals are few and far between.
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