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Premiership ‘not at war’ with RFU over promotion & relegation – Ian Ritchie

Premiership Rugby head Ian Ritchie has told the BBC it is “right and proper” to look into scrapping promotion from and relegation to the Championship.

But he has rejected suggestions leading clubs are “at war” with governing body the Rugby Football Union (RFU) over the issue, or that changes are imminent.

The Mail on Sunday says Premiership Rugby has threatened to form its own breakaway league if the RFU refuses to end promotion and relegation.

Ritchie called that claim “ridiculous”.

The Mail says it has seen board meeting minutes in which club chairmen discussed an “unregulated competition” should the RFU not support their plans.

“You would expect all boards to discuss issues like Premiership promotion and relegation and we’ve been doing that for some time,” Ritchie told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek on Sunday.

“But to be clear as well, we’ve got an eight-year agreement with the RFU.

“We’ve worked very closely in partnership with them and we’ve not put any proposals to them about this yet, and nor have we finalised our own.”

The former RFU chief executive added: “What we need to do is consider this further and it’s a bit precipitous to say there’s a rift between us.

“We work closely in partnership and I believe that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“We’ve not started to have any conversations and finalise our views on this so to suggest a civil war is imminent is, frankly, ridiculous.”

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Many promoted clubs have struggled to bridge the gulf between the Championship and Premiership – the 131-year-old club London Welsh lost all 22 games in 2015 and folded the following year.

Last season, London Irish were relegated for the second time in three years but they are top of the Championship after 10 games.

“We all have views over the years of promotion and relegation, what happened with teams going up or down. But the uncertainty of that and how it works – we need to consider all these matters further,” Ritchie said.

On scrapping relegation and promotion, he explained: “There are plenty of models around the world were where it works, the NFL being a classic example. How does it work with the economics of the game? How does it work with the sporting aspects?

“These are complex matters and we’ve been discussing these for sometime. We’ll continue to discuss them. That’s right and proper.”

He also said the clubs were looking at overseas games as a means of expanding the Premiership’s appeal – matches have already taken place in the United States in previous seasons.

“Obviously we want to expand the Premiership internationally. There have been gains in the USA and we’ve been looking very closely at that market. You wouldn’t rule out looking at other countries as well,” Ritchie said.

“But, again, I think it’s early doors.”

Analysis

Henry Winter of The Times, speaking to Sportsweek

All sport has to have jeopardy. There has to be an aspirational element too. You know they will kill off rugby if they say to smaller clubs: “You cannot aspire to greatness.”

In football we’ve talked about Premier League Two, but it’s never happened. There has always been very strong Championship, particularly this season. Everyone fighting to climb up into the Premier League.You have to have that promised land factor. You cannot pull up the drawbridge – which seems to be at the essence of this – and you cannot be completely driven by economics because if it’s completely driven by economics, people will eventually walk away.