Ealing Trailfinders may seek to dispute an automatic promotion to the Premiership for runaway leaders Newcastle Falcons
The RFU announced last Friday that the English rugby union season would end for all domestic competitions with the Premiership the only exception to the ruling.
The decision, made in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, effectively ended the RFU Championship (England‘s second tier) with no ruling made on who had won the league, and what the situation was as to relegation and promotion to the Premiership.
As to the outcomes, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said in a statement at the time that the RFU was discussing solutions with clubs: “While we would like to provide all the answers now, we need some time to get it right for the best interests of the game. Rest assured we are working on this as a priority and we will continue to send weekly updates to clubs.”
In the Championship, Newcastle Falcons lead the league by 18 points, but second-placed Ealing Trailfinders have a game in hand on 53 points, with eight matches left to play from which they could gain a maximum of 40 points.
Following the RFU decision to postpone all games (taken prior to the season ending) Ealing issued a brief statement on the club website which conceded that while “of course we are disappointed by the current situation, it is clear that the right decision has been made for everyone”.
In comments since to The Rugby Paper, following the ending of the season, the club have said that Newcastle should not be handed the Championship title, pointing to the example of the Premiership.
“Premiership Rugby aren’t prepared to end their competition yet, so why are we lumping the Championship in with the community game and being told to call a halt?” Trailfinders rugby director Ben Ward said.
He also pointed out that Ealing have a fixture to come against bottom of the table Yorkshire Carnegie.
Ward added the club could take legal action if Newcastle were handed promotion, especially given the recently announced decreased funding to the Championship. Ward said: “We’re taking counsel at the moment from a legal perspective as to what our position is.”
Falcons claw back
In response the Newcastle Falcons published a statement on their website headlined “Falcons express disappointment at Ealing comments”, in which director of rugby Dean Richards reacted as follows: “At a time of national crisis we should be focusing all our attention on helping the most vulnerable, both within our own organisations and in wider society, rather than instructing legal representation.
“The RFU have publicly committed to a review to decide the outcome of the league, and we had intended keeping a respectful silence to avoid any suggestion of influencing this process.
“However, with Ealing actively choosing to use the front page of a national publication to dangle the possible threat of legal action against this review, we no longer feel able to keep quiet.”
Richards added: “Difficult decisions have to be made in these unprecedented times, when people’s lives and livelihoods are being lost. If Ealing’s primary concern is whether they can bridge the 18-point gap between our two teams to gain promotion, then that reflects very poorly on them considering everything else going on in the world right now.
“Instead of spending money on legal counsel we will be directing it to those who need it most, and while Ealing might point out that their game in hand is against the bottom club in Yorkshire Carnegie, it should be considered that we also have a home game against Yorkshire Carnegie as one of our seven remaining matches.
“We have won all 15 of our league games this season, beating every single team in the division, including a bonus-point victory away to Ealing.
“Ealing, meanwhile, have lost two and drawn one of their 14 games in the league despite having played a game less than us, and their remaining eight fixtures would have seen them playing against the two teams who have already defeated them – ourselves and Cornish Pirates.
“We fully appreciate that having an RFU review to decide the outcome of the season is not a perfect situation, but these are not perfect times.
“There are more important focuses for our attention and resources at this incredibly testing time, which makes Ealing’s public position all the more distasteful.”
In February the RFU announced that funding to Championship clubs would be halved to only £288,000 per year for next season, which has since been softened to decrease over a period of two seasons following a backlash.