Wasps, London Irish and Worcester will be offered chance to return in new Premiership 2 despite opposition from Championship clubs… as RFU reveals radical pan to save rugby with new two-tier franchise system

21 December 2023 0 By Total Football News
  • RFU propose a two-tier franchise plan for the Premiership and Championship
  • Premiership sides Wasps, London Irish and Worcester all went bust last season 
  • The Championship recently voted against the adoption of a franchise system 

The RFU have proposed a two-tier franchise plan for the Premiership and Championship despite opposition from the latter, to reshape and save the domestic game.

Wasps, London Irish and Worcester, who all went bust last season, will be free to bid for a place in a new second tier of English rugby, again against the wishes of Championship clubs.

While the Championship recently voted against the adoption of a franchise system, the RFU are pressing ahead with the concept. 

They will invite applications to snap up a franchise place from February, with the aim of finalising a new structure in June, for 2025-26 onwards.

The union’s hope is that enough clubs or franchises come forward that a league of up to 14 teams can be formed, as a sustainable, professional second tier, but details of central funding cannot be confirmed until commercial viability reports have been finalised and received. 

Premiership sides Wasps, London Irish and Worcester all went bust last season

Premiership sides Wasps, London Irish and Worcester all went bust last season

Wasps could return in Premiership 2 as part of the RFU's revamp of the second tier

Wasps could return in Premiership 2 as part of the RFU’s revamp of the second tier

Worcester were suspended from all competitions after missing the RFU's deadline

Worcester were suspended from all competitions after missing the RFU’s deadline

If there are not enough applications, the plan will be abandoned, but the RFU have warned that they won’t simply increase funding to the existing Championship clubs who don’t apply to be part of Premiership 2. 

The hope is that promotion and relegation can be re-established between the top two tiers, but one stumbling block is that the Premiership clubs have insisted that newcomers have to purchase P-shares in the league and, in the past, figures of £20-£35million have been suggested as the asking price. 

Steve Diamond, the former Sale and Worcester director of rugby, has been hired as an independent consultant, and when asked if the Warriors, Wasps and Irish should clear all debts before being allowed back to the top of the game, he said: ‘If those clubs do everything within the legal terms with their administrators, why would you not want those brands into your league? Why would you not want Wasps?

‘If we are going to try and commercialise “Premiership 2”, or whatever we call it – if you were having brands, Wasps were the biggest brand of the three that went down, probably then London Irish, thirdly Worcester. 

Now only Worcester, out of the three, fulfil criteria as we sit here because they’ve got their own stadium. The rest of them are nomadic. So they have got a lot of work to do.

The RFU are open to applications from areas of the country not represented at professional level, such as the south coast or East Anglia.

Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s director of performance rugby, said: ‘I think, personally, it’s going to be difficult. We have no preconceptions, but the hurdles someone would have to get through would be very difficult. 

‘But, again, why wouldn’t we look at everything to do something different? Rather than before we start, going, “No, it’s not going to happen”.’

Steve Diamond, the former Sale and Worcester director of rugby, has been hired as an independent consultant

Steve Diamond, the former Sale and Worcester director of rugby, has been hired as an independent consultant

Conor O¿Shea, the RFU¿s director of performance rugby, believes the new plans could prove difficult to implement

Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s director of performance rugby, believes the new plans could prove difficult to implement 

Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief executive, added: ‘We’d love to see more clubs in the north; a better geographical spread.

‘If Darlington Mowden Park came to us and said, “Here’s our investor plan, here’s our commercial credibility and we’re accessing X amount of players from around the country, this is our playing squad”, we’d look at that as a proper expression of interest.’

Sweeney revealed that talks are taking place about potentially removing the expensive P-share entry barrier, saying: ‘It’s not £20m anymore, but that is an active conversation. 

‘They want this second tier because they want the bottom of the Premiership to be honest and have that jeopardy. They don’t want to see clubs cut away at the bottom and not being competitive.’