Premiership: Relegation scrapped for this season amid Covid-19 pandemic

Gloucester are bottom of the Premiership after eight games

The RFU council has scrapped relegation from the Premiership this season.

After a vote passed on Friday with a “strong majority”, the league will expand to 13 teams next term, with one side promoted from the Championship.

There will now be engagement with the league’s broadcaster, BT Sport, along with clubs, sponsors, players and fans on what happens for future seasons.

The RFU said promotion and relegation could be put on hold for “three or four seasons” as it reviews the calendar.

It is hoped any changes to the domestic calendar will give additional preparation time for England players leading up to the World Cup in 2023.

The RFU said it would also be working on new minimum standards both “on and off the field” any team promoted from the Championship would have to meet.

Any new proposals will be voted on by the RFU council before the end of this campaign.

“We welcome today’s decision and thank the RFU Council members for their support,” Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said.

“The priority for everyone involved has been to protect the long-term sustainability and success of English professional rugby for the fans and clubs who have endured huge financial and sporting challenges throughout the last two seasons.”

No Championship relegation

Concerns had been raised by BT Sport that losing the jeopardy of relegation would diminish the drama of the end of the season. But those worries are understood to have been allayed by the fact Friday’s decision is just for this season and engagement on future seasons will follow.

The Covid-19 crisis has brought severe financial challenges to the clubs, while a points-based system has been used for deciding five matches that have been cancelled this season because of coronavirus outbreaks, which some argue makes relegating a club unfair.

Relegation from the Championship to National One has also been scrapped for this campaign, although the Championship season does not get under way until 6 March.

It means there will be 11 teams in the second tier of English rugby union in 2021-22.

“The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game,” RFU president Jeff Blackett said.

“We want to ensure a healthy elite game to support successful winning England teams that generate income to stimulate and preserve the game across all levels.

“The Council will continue to be closely engaged with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.”

Testing reduced

It has also been agreed that from Monday, Covid-19 testing will go back to once a week in the Premiership and Championship.

The Professional Game Board (PGB), which agreed to reduce it from twice weekly testing, said it followed a decrease in coronavirus cases in England and a reduction in the number of positive tests in the professional game.

It said the decision had been supported by the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA.

“We began twice-weekly testing in January in response to the growing number of cases emerging across the country,” Chris Booy, chair of the PGB, said.

“We have now seen a reduction in positive cases and excellent co-operation from players and support staff complying with the stringent protocols we have put into place to minimise risk in the training and playing environments.

“The testing system will continue to be closely monitored and any changes will be made with the support of scientific advice.”

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