No relegation possibility for Bedford Blues next season

Goldington Road Bedford Blues
A floodlit Goldington Road Image: Bedford Blues RFC

There will be no relegation from Bedford Blues’ division next season and the 11 current Greene King IPA Championship clubs will be competing for a prized fourteenth Premiership spot.

On 29 June, the RFU Council, the key decision-making body of the RFU, voted in favour of promotion and relegation changes to English rugby union’s top two men’s divisions. 

The changes will be phased in across the next three seasons:

  • Like last season, no relegation from the Championship in 2021/22
  • Current Championship clubs will compete to be, subject to minimum standards criteria, the fourteenth team in expanded Gallagher Premiership for 2022/23
  • No promotion opportunity for Championship clubs in 2022/23
  • As occurred in 2020/21, no Premiership club will be relegated for the next two seasons
  • In 2023/24, the top Championship side will play off against the bottom Premiership side for a place in the Premiership

The previous one up-one down promotion and relegation model between the top two divisions will theoretically return from 2024/25.

It’s still not known how many teams will play in the Championship from 2022/23. 

The likeliest scenarios are that the Championship is restored to its pre-COVID size of 12 teams, or expanded to 14. A decision is likely by January 2022. 

The changes are viewed by critics as ‘ring-fencing by stealth’. 

However, RFU president, Jeff Blackett, rejected this was the case, pointing out that last season and in two of the next three, “a Championship club will have the opportunity to be promoted”.

The changes form part of the RFU’s COVID recovery plan and are promoted as helping “improve the financial stability and sustainability of professional rugby”.

The RFU Council also voted to maintain overall funding to Championship clubs of c.£1,760,000 per season from the RFU and PRL, the Premiership’s governing body, until the end of the 2023/2024 season. 

This will work out at £160,000 per club for 2021/22, partly subject to England Qualified Player (EQP) matchday squad requirements. 

However, Bedford Independent understands that the overall figure will not be adjusted when the league likely grows to 12 or 14 teams from the 2022/23 season, meaning per club funding would fall slightly to c.£126,000-£147,000.

Funding had fallen dramatically from c.£550,000 per Championship club in the 2019/2020 season to the current £160,000 figure. A near 50% cut was announced in February 2020, only to be made steeper following the pandemic. 

Last month, Championship clubs split between them the non-season ticket live stream revenue from the recent truncated season.

Ealing Trailfinders, who missed out on promotion to Saracens last season, are the favourites to top the Championship next season. 

Bedford Blues have been steadily signing players in recent weeks, with 11 players now signed on for next season.

A relegation play-off between the bottom Premiership side and top second division team is not a new concept.

Bedford played two-legged relegation play-offs as a struggling Premiership side against Rotherham in 1999 and 2000. 

In 1999, the scores were tied on aggregate but Bedford stayed up because they scored more tries.

The second time around, Blues lost 34-40 on aggregate. They have been in English rugby’s second division ever since.