“New era” for Bedford Blues and their rivals as Championship hails new RFU deal

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Bedford Blues player holds off a tackle from a Coventry rugby player in their fixture at Butts Park Arena
Image: Kie Fewster / Bedford Blues RFC

Championship Rugby are tonight celebrating a “new era” for the sport in England after announcing a deal that puts promotion to the Premiership back on the table for the nation’s second tier sides.

The Championship clubs have been involved in what has at times been an angry and bitter exchange with the RFU ever since the sport’s governing body in the UK announced a substantial funding cut as well as placing what was seen as unachievable ground-grading criteria on clubs in their quests for promotion.

However, on Friday evening, Championship Rugby announced that those criteria have been relaxed as part of a series of measures aimed at reconnecting the top two divisions.

The Championship will also create a new, independently chaired Tier 2 Board of Governance in a move described as one that has allowed the second tier a chance to, “take control of its own destiny”.

A statement on behalf of all the Championship clubs also outlines the future of Championship rugby including decisions made on media and broadcasting rights, commercial opportunities and the relaxation of promotion rules.

“In its meeting today, the RFU approved a the new Tier 2 Board, a body with an equal representation of Championship and RFU members, chaired by an independent person”, said the statement on behalf of all Championship clubs.

“That Board will take decisions affecting the commercial exploitation of the second-tier league, hence allowing our clubs to make the most their marketing, media and broadcasting rights.”

Will we see the Blues in the Premiership?

The second part of the statement outlines that the “minimum operating standards” needed to achieve promotion to the Premiership have been relaxed to make them more achievable, also allowing clubs a four year period to achieve them.

In recent years, only Doncaster Knights have been given the green light for promotion after Castle Park passed the ground-grading test, but these decisions were largely scoffed at as they were made towards the end of the season, when the Knights seemed to be out of contention for promotion.

Bedford Blues host Doncaster Knights in the Championship Cup at Goldington Road in February 2023
Bedford Blues in action against Doncaster Knights Image: FennellTakesFotos / Twitter

“Previously, the terms and conditions of entry had been unacceptable to Championship clubs, because the investment needed and the shorter timetable made them impracticable to a potential promotion candidate”, says the statement.

What the new criteria will be is not yet known.

Bedford Blues have, understandably, shown caution in throwing too much money at the chance for promotion to English rugby’s top tier. The Championship clubs are wary of what happened to London Welsh after their promotion to the Premiership in 2014.

“We’ve got what we came for”

Welsh went into liquidation in December 2016, and the demise of Jersey Reds at the beginning of the 2023/24 season is also not old news, so Bedford Blues, among others, will not be rushing into any hasty decisions.

However, these series of compromises from the RFU is undoubtedly good news for the Championship.

“We have got what we came for”, said Championship Chairman, Simon Halliday.

“Now our clubs – and every club – can realistically dream of promotion to the Premiership.

“There is now a genuine path for ambitious clubs to rise; the top tier is reconnected to the rest of English rugby and we can use our commercial potential to fund the growth that rugby sorely needs at our level.

“This is a result that brings common resolve to our sport, guaranteeing that English rugby remains open and fair from the lowest league to the highest.”

Bedford Blues’ preparations for the new season are now well underway, with forward trio Luke Frost, Jac Arthur and Cameron King all announcing they were staying on at Goldington Road for another season.

This is alongside Michael Le Bourgeois who remains as a player-coach, while utility back Louis James joins from rivals Coventry alongside Tommy Herman; the Olney front row joining after impressing in the Annual Army match in March.