By Andy Reynolds
Well if nothing else no-one can say the closed season has been quiet; the RFU have been at the centre of most things.
Firstly the shambles over London Welsh and their promotion to the top flight; what a great day it was for them and their fans, but also rugby in general, when they won the appeal. I’m no legal expert but their argument was around UK and EU competition laws, nothing to do with the criteria of the ground, so let’s hope that whoever wins the final come May there will be no messing around and if the club want to be promoted they will be!
Newcastle have accepted the relegation decision very well. Whilst I’m sure they were bitterly disappointed, they will no doubt enjoy their adventure and, with Dean Richards at the helm, I’m sure they will do very well. In total there are 3 shareholder clubs of Premiership rugby in the Championship, Leeds and Bristol being the others. Leeds have assembled a new team given they no longer have the parachute payment and Bristol must still be smarting over winning the league by such a distance only for Cornish Pirates to knock them out at the Semi Final stage, through a 15 minute period of brilliance from Pirates in the first leg.
Pirates have also had something of a change of personnel; only this week the ever reliable Rob Cook has departed for Gloucester. Rotherham and Doncaster have assembled an even bigger pack than in prior seasons. Bedford have just about kept the same squad that had their final hopes taken away by a deluge of rain, and London Welsh with a few key signings. Nottingham has former England International Martin Haag at the helm.
My predictions are for a top four of Newcastle (by some distance) then in no particular order Bristol, Leeds and one of Pirates, Nottingham or Bedford. At the bottom I think Jersey will be OK and cause some upsets on the way, so who knows? One thing is for sure, all clubs need to hit the ground running. All will be back doing the hard yards now, however I do feel for the players at Nottingham who were back in pre-season before London Welsh’s hangovers had cleared up!
There is also the new look British and Irish cup to look forward to. This season it’s being played over the same weekends as the Heineken Cup. All that needs to be done now is for the RFU to find some sponsors for both the league and cup. Sky will no doubt do a sterling job in showing live games. Let’s hope the brand and style of rugby will continue as it has over recent seasons.
Alas there is still an off field dispute between the Championship clubs and the RFU over funding, with the Championship clubs reportedly taking the RFU to court over monies owed totalling £70K per club. Given that each club will also have two less home fixtures next season, we hope this will be resolved very quickly otherwise you fear that some clubs may find things very tight.
Roll on the first weekend in September.
Follow our Championship writer Andy Reynolds on Twitter @mrandyreynolds