By Andrew Reynolds
So the playoff group stages in the Championship have drawn to a close and ironically the top four of the regular season will play each other in the Semi –finals, Bristol v Cornish Pirates and Bedford v London Welsh.
At the bottom we say farewell, for a season at least, to Esher, with London Scottish managing to survive. Esher can perhaps look at the effect the World Cup had on them with a very poor start to the season, their recent results suggest they are somewhat unlucky.
Securing promotion are Jersey, but won’t it be unfair to expect towns to play against a National side? Whilst we welcome them with open arms, travel arrangements will be interesting. Let’s hope there are no adverse weather conditions preventing flights or boat trips!
Next season’s format is changed slightly, with the bottom club being relegated with no play off stage and the top four going straight into the semi finals rather than the top eight, split into two groups. I must admit it has felt strange the regular season finishing in February!
To bridge the gap of the missing home games which provide much needed revenue, the British and Irish Cup will take the same format as the Heineken Cup with groups of 4 playing each other home and away, then the knock out stages. The powers to be are also going to allow the clubs to keep the revenue from the gate receipts from the knock out stages, and introduce prize money.
Let’s hope that a sponsor can be found for both the Championship and Cup to boost much needed funds for the clubs.
The playoff pool stages at the top have been a very close affair with 3 draws and numerous games won by a single point let alone a score, this sums up how close and competitive the league is with all clubs capable of beating each other. Leeds, who were relegated from the Premiership last season, have announced the release of 14 players. No doubt the one off parachute payment following relegation from the Premiership has caused this to happen.
Whoever comes down, Newcastle or Wasps, will get around £1 Million to ‘survive’ the season and keep the commitment of players who are on long term contracts.
What will be interesting is if Bedford, London Welsh or Cornish Pirates win the final whether the RFU will allow them to be promoted as none of them meet the ground requirements. Bristol have no such worries.
Bedford and Pirates in my opinion would embrace the challenge making improvements over the summer and welcome the adventure. London Welsh would have a bigger challenge and I’d suggest they would have to find a new ground as to start with they don’t have flood lights. It’s likely that their home semi final will have to be played elsewhere as the cricket club at Old Deer Park takes priority, but given the opportunity who knows what they will do.
If none of these three are allowed to be promoted what will happen to the parachute payment as no club will be relegated; will the winners get the funding instead to invest in their ground and meet the requirements for the following year?
Or will the powers to be realise that if you win the league you should be rewarded and if you finish bottom you face the consequences.
Of course Bristol will be hoping to win and take all of these questions away, but won’t it be interesting if they don’t? In my opinion I fancy a final which will involve Cornish Pasties and Bedfordshire Clangers as the half time fare!
Follow Andy on Twitter @MrAndyReynolds