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League restructuring 2020 / 2021 and beyond

Andy Grayson and I recently attended a Dorset and Wilts re-structuring meeting at Melksham RFC to assess possible outcomes from the ongoing RFU Restructuring exercise currently underway and due to report in April.

The task Group of the RFU Community Game Board (CGB) was set up to review the adult male competition structure of the RFU leagues (English Club Championship) from Level 3 (National One) downwards, and recommend an optimal playing offer and structure that protects the future health of the Game for adult men by meeting the needs of current and future players.

What work has been carried out?

Included in the work to date has been evidence gathered from desk research, Electronic Matchcards, National Rugby Survey, teams and matches data from the RFU Game Management System, the use of case studies within rugby and from other sports (cricket and hockey), game feedback, surveys, listening panels and using historical and current knowledge from within and outside the task Group.

The Group Work Programme

  1. The Group has met six times since September 2019

  2. 12 Listening Panels were held across the country to get direct feedback on specific areas of the Groups work to date including players, coaches

Why is change needed?

  1. Data over the past 3 seasons has shown that players are choosing to play approximately 15 games on average a season (across all levels/regions). However, the majority of leagues require teams to play well in excess of this number. Among other issues this over supply of fixtures leads to:

  2. Less players are opting to play the majority of games within a season through lifestyle choice, thus;

  3. More players are needed to complete a 1st XV season

  4. As more players are needed to complete a 1st XV season pressure is placed on club lower XV’s leading to increased walkovers

  5. Player burn-out – the season becomes a ‘slog’ of hard league matches and the implications are this could lead to players leaving the game earlier, or less players playing in Vets teams, less volunteers, coaches and administrators.

  6. The Group has looked at a number of options for future league structures that meet the current and future needs of players.

  7. The key criteria in evaluating any proposed changes to the league structure were categorised, as follows:

  8. Player welfare

  9. Time and distance involved in playing fixtures

  10. Quality of player experience and the integrity of the competition

  11. Finances and sustainability of participating clubs

  12. Initial work has focused on restructuring the leagues by reducing the amount of fixtures required to complete the season, and travel time to/from matches, whilst still providing a full fixture list for clubs.

  13. The fixture schedule would create specific gaps in the season for ‘rest’ and not be categorised as ‘reserve’ weekends although it is acknowledged that in exceptional adverse weather conditions the ‘rest’ weekends may be required to play games on. It is important that the dates allocated assist with player availability and maximise local derby opportunities.

At the D&W meeting at Wiltshire several proposals were examined including the construction of a Dorset and Wilts Premiership league whereby the top 6 teams from D&W1N and D&W1S would amalgamate into one division. Although this would increase travelling and travel time, something the RFU is eager to reduce, it would provide a more satisfactory bridge between D&W1N / S and the Southern Counties, into which promoted clubs from D&W are moved. It would also provide a much better career stepping stone for those players who want to push their games to next level and are happy and willing to travel to achieve such ends.

The knock on would be that D&W1N and S would be reduced in size from 12 teams to 10, with fewer fixtures in the league, greater breaks during the season and opportunities for cup entries and friendlies.

A further suggestion was that the existing D&W3N be re-designated as a “Matrix” or “Merit” table rather than a league. The effect of this is that the teams involved would not have to comply with all of the RFU regulations relating to league entry (GMS match cards, penalties for games being conceded, registered players etc.) and could be much more flexible in the way in which matches are organised (i.e. 10 teams in the “matrix” play each other once before Christmas and then after Christmas divide either into 2 sub divisions of the top 5 and then bottom 5 and compete against each other twice or even divided geographically with the top two sides from each half competing in a “final” at the end of the season.)

It became clear to Andy and I that virtually every club represented wanted something different from the league review (some are single team clubs, some need regular fixtures to bolster finances, some are on the extremes of the region (Minety) and have much further to travel, some have three teams and want more flexibility for their lower teams etc. etc.).

What next?

After an analysis of the returns from clubs across the region, D&W have issued this statement for the season 2020 / 2021.

Further to the 2 meetings held to take club views on leagues and after getting further news on Monday about the proposals coming out from the RFU review, since it would appear that in season 2021/22 when the planned changes will be introduced, anywhere between 4-6 teams could end up moving from L8 to L7, we have decided not to make any changes to our local structure.

It would also appear that at the lower levels (8,9 and below) we might be asked to explore more localised leagues using teams from Hampshire, Somerset, Gloucs etc. to keep travel to a minimum. Hopefully more details will come out in the coming weeks and then we will start the discussions with neighbouring CB’s to see what can be worked.

In the meantime next season we will continue with D&W1 North and South and below that we have decided to introduce 3 leagues- probably around 8-9 teams strong to again try to cut travel but also to provide league rugby for those teams that want it. Sitting below this will be the friendly matrix operating in Dorset (like this season) and in Wiltshire (new for next season).

We will endeavour to keep the clubs updated on further news as and when it comes out from Twickenham.

This would effectively mean that if Minety avoid finishing in the bottom 2 of the league, positions currently held by Marlborough and Bradford on Avon, we will run in Dorset and Wilts Division 1 North this season with our 2nd XV possibly either competing in D&W3N or D&W4N (both with smaller numbers of teams in each league) or in a “Matrix” table, effectively called D&W4N.

As soon as we hear more details of both the club’s response and any news from the RFU we will bring it to you here.


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