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RFU proposes reduced league sizes and addition of optional end-of-season cup competitions ahead of 2021/22 season




The RFU has laid out proposals on a nationwide league restructure across its community game for implementation ahead of the 2021/22 season.

The governing bodies’ Future Competitions Structure Group has released a recommendation paper on the adult male competitions structure (English Club Championship Level 3 and below) to better meet the needs of current and future players.

Its proposals include reducing league sizes, introducing league break weekends and organising leagues that minimise travel as a result of individuals found to be playing less games due to lifestyle reasons and modern day demands on time. The latter has put extra strain on clubs who were found to have used, on average, 43 players to fulfil current league campaigns.

Bury St Edmunds would play at a reduced number Level 4 division, which would incorporate a new third league, if they were not to be promoted in 2020/21Picture: Shawn Pearce
Bury St Edmunds would play at a reduced number Level 4 division, which would incorporate a new third league, if they were not to be promoted in 2020/21Picture: Shawn Pearce

With player feedback also highlighting the importance of knockout rugby, new optional entry end-of-season cup competitions would be introduced at Levels 5 & 6 (London & South East Premier and London 1 North).

The paper sets out launching one new division at Level 3 (National League 1), two at Level 4 (National League 2), two at Level 5 and four at Level 6. The current divisions would each reduce by two teams to 14 or 12.

There would be a minimum of 16 leagues at Level 7 (London 2 North East) and below, dependent on new entries. League sizes would be between 10-12 teams with flexibility, depending on the effect of regionalisation and local need.

Sudbury (Level 6) would have the option to play in an end-of-season cup competition in 2021/22, under the proposalsPicture: Mecha Morton
Sudbury (Level 6) would have the option to play in an end-of-season cup competition in 2021/22, under the proposalsPicture: Mecha Morton

The Eastern Counties underwent a regionalised restructure in 2008 which had already reduced travelling and the amount of games meaning clubs at Level 7 and below may not see too much difference.

Despite the new end-of-season cup competition proposal for some levels, promotion and relegation from the league would still be based on finishing league position.

It is not yet known how promotion or relegation would be affected in the 2020/21 campaign ahead of the reductions in league sizes.

The RFU release said: “The paper recognises the significant opportunity for rugby to develop an optimal playing offer and structure that protects the future health of the adult male game, meets the needs of current and future players, balances quality of experience and player welfare needs and limits travel, while protecting the sustainability of clubs.”

Action from Mildenhall & Red Lodge versus Haverhill last season. Both teams have been promoted, meaning they will be playing at Level 9 (Eastern Counties 1 West) for 2020/21Picture: Mark Westley
Action from Mildenhall & Red Lodge versus Haverhill last season. Both teams have been promoted, meaning they will be playing at Level 9 (Eastern Counties 1 West) for 2020/21Picture: Mark Westley

Although the season was meant to start in September for Levels 3-6, the RFU will need government approval once it reaches Step E on its ‘Return to Rugby Road Map’ programme, ahead of going into Step F.

It is currently at Step C in those areas not on local lockdown measures, which allows clubs to take part in a Covid-adapted form of the game called Ready4Rugby as well as touch rugby training, both within their clubs with a maximum of 20 players.

Feedback, via Englandrugby.com by clicking here is welcomed ahead of the RFU Council decision on October 2.

Action from Newmarket's cup semi-final with Cambridge III as Harry Robbins sprints away for a score for Newmarket last seasonPicture: Mark Westley
Action from Newmarket's cup semi-final with Cambridge III as Harry Robbins sprints away for a score for Newmarket last seasonPicture: Mark Westley