Giving the Premiership a purpose

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Geraint John has given his first interview since becoming the Welsh Rugby Union’s ‘Community Director’ to WalesOnline’s Andy Howell. Well, I say interview.

The general premise of an interview is that the journalist asks questions of the subject, which the subject then answers, and a written article is published out of those answers which, in this case, you would hope explains the direction that John will give the community game.

Unfortunately, aside from giving an insight into how he came to swap jobs with Ryan Jones, who is now in charge of the professional game in Wales, John only succeeds in asking more questions than Howell. 23 in all.

Now I’m not going to sit here and write that I have the answers for the community game, or even pretend to know what is going on with it. I have no link with the lower leagues, mini and junior sections or the women’s game.

My rugby involvement starts with Cardiff Blues and stops at Cardiff RFC, but the latter are now under John’s remit, with the Principality Premiership defined as within the community game, separate to the professional game.

Of the 23 questions he asks during the article, three are directly linked to the Premiership; “How do we actually make a real quality, vibrant and sustainable club programme? What should the competition look like? Where should we be playing?”

Perhaps a more pertinent question though, if he’s sticking with them rather than answers, would be “what is the Premiership?”.

Over the last few years it has probably been the most messed about league in Europe with the format changed from a simple round-robin, to a half-way split, to an East-West split and now back to round-robin, but being cut from 16 teams to 12.

In that time it has also gone from a recognised step on the professional player development pathway to being grouped with the community game, but still with an abundance of regional academy players involved once the new Celtic Cup competition for A teams has come to an end.

If you’re one of the clubs you’ve no idea how many games you’ll get, in what format they’ll come and how you should market it. All the while you are getting fewer home games and less money from the Welsh Rugby Union.

This is why it’s time for stability in the Principality Premiership, and what an exciting time it could be if that were offered by the powers that be.

In my ideal world there would be 14-team Premiership and Championship competitions going forward, but 12 is workable in what should now be advertised explicitly as the top of the domestic scene in Welsh rugby.

Yes there will still be some regional academy involvement, but as the Celtic Cup expands over the next few years that will minimise, and actually more consistent pairing of players with Premiership teams has assisted the league this season.

12 teams offers 22 regular season games, with two weekends set aside for the WRU National Cup. Then it’s about keeping as many teams as possible interested for as much of the season as possible, avoiding dead rubbers at the end of a campaign.

Promotion and relegation should be two-up/two-down, or potentially one-up/one-down with a play-off between 11th in the Premiership and 2nd in the Championship. This would hopefully see three or four teams in a battle.

Then the top six go into a finals series, with quarter-finals between third and sixth placed teams before the first and second placed teams host semi-finals. With a bit of luck the other eight teams in the league would be involved in a battle for these places, but even so the maximum teams with dead rubber potential is four.

In terms of financials then, cutting the WRU funding is difficult to argue with as the Premiership steps away from the professional game, but there is no doubt in my mind that Scrum V and S4C have a good product on their hands, which they are currently getting for free.

Taking a fee from them to broadcast what have been a number of exciting games this season would boost club coffers without impacting on restricted Union finances, and with BBC Wales not spending £4.5m a year on the Pro14 but keen to keep weekly live rugby, it’s a fair expectation they could contribute.

With that stable income, an easy to follow league structure and a competitiveness throughout the season, hopefully the Principality Premiership can then push forward over the next few years and thrive as the top tier of the domestic rugby scene in Wales.

Continue to mess about with the league, however, and it could well spell the end for a number of top clubs, and the competition as a whole.

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