RFU cuts turn London Scottish semi-pro but Championship could become development league

By Angus Oliver
March 30 2020, 13.15

Funding cuts will force London Scottish to become a semi-professional club next season, but discussions with the RFU about the Championship’s future have begun.

The RFU announced at the beginning of February that it would slash the seasonal £534,000 it presently gives each Championship club by 50%.

Championship clubs and players responded with disappointment, not least with the size of the cut but also with its timing: most Championship clubs begin their recruitment nine months in advance of a forthcoming season.

Carson Russell, London Scottish commercial manager, said: “By the first week of February, 75-80% of our future planning was completed and the financials were committed to.

“We knew the eight year agreement which currently gives each club their funding has been coming to its end, but it was not clear what the new agreement might be.

“In the current scenario we are based around minimum wage, hence why the budgets we worked towards for next season were based on last year.

“The existing budgets are so lean that we can’t reduce them any further and that is why we and several other clubs are forced to go part-time.”

The RFU, headed by Bill Sweeney, made the decision as it felt it was not getting a clear return from its investment into the second-tier of English club rugby.

While clubs such as Bedford – who view the cuts as a stepping stone towards ring-fencing the Premiership – slammed the announcement, Russell said Scottish understand why they have been done and some of the reasoning behind them.

But in an RFU statement Sweeney said: “In addition to funding discussions we want to work together as a group to define the role of the Championship.

“We need to have clear joint goals for the League and be sure of the benefit we’re getting from our investment in it.

“We are committed to exploring commercial opportunities to make the League more self-sustaining.”

These objectives and sentiments are shared by London Scottish, and Russell is encouraged that the Championship Committee is now in dialogue with the RFU to set the league’s future purpose.

“We should collaborate across the game to have a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve,” he said.

TRY-TIME: Could the Championship become a development league?

“The RFU, Premiership and Championship need to know their responsibilities within an aligned view – for England to win the Rugby World Cup.

“One of the biggest challenges for England squads and emerging players is they do not play enough rugby.

“Effective discussions could therefore be about changing the style of the league to have more focus on skill development rather than on individual team performance.

“That would give developing players more exposure to a higher level of rugby on a more consistent basis.

“The Championship’s role – as a development league – would therefore be to evolve the players, coaches and staff who will be looking to win the 2027 World Cup for England.”

In the meantime London Scottish are engaged in positive negotiations about player and staff contracts for the current season – now cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic – and evaluating how to run a professional squad on a part-time basis next year.

Russell said: “We informed the players we will be going part-time as early as we could so they had as long as possible to secure new jobs.

“We are now in consultation with them about retaining what is most important at the club.

“Those things are the facilities, where we train, the quality of the management staff, the backroom team, medics, physios, strength and conditioning coaches, technical coaches, analysis equipment, and so on. We are trying to figure out what takes priority.”

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