Looking into Premiership abyss brings deep trouble

Mere fear of relegation can begin downward spiral that leaves clubs struggling to stay afloat, writes Hugh Godwin

The battle to avoid relegation from the Guinness Premiership has been the most open for years, with a third of the 12 clubs still in danger of the drop with three weekends of matches to go. One out of Worcester and the Premiership's trio of northern clubs – Sale Sharks, Newcastle Falcons and Leeds Carnegie – will go down and our analysis shows that it is not just the financial hit of dropping into the Championship which is worrying. A double-whammy effect has emerged in which the mere fear of relegation is causing top players to scarper to other clubs.

A share of the spoils

Leeds Carnegie are billing next Sunday's home match with Worcester as the "million pound game", a catchy title concealing the complicated shareholdings of clubs in the Premiership. It used to be that a club had to spend eight consecutive seasons in the division to achieve the maximum holding of A and B Premiership shares. Worcester successfully applied for the process to be "accelerated" and are now full shareholders alongside 10 of the other 11 clubs, each receiving an equal cut of central funding from sponsors and broadcasters, currently about £2m per club and rising. Leeds also had their shareholding "accelerated" but need one more season in the Premiership to become full shareholders, and they reckon staying up will be worth at least an extra £1m per season which would be a huge boost to their budget. A relegated club loses shares worth 40 per cent of central funding. This is balanced by a parachute payment of £800,000 but only for one season. "The hurt would be in the second season if you didn't get straight back up," said Worcester's general manager, Charlie Little. If Leeds go down they forfeit 55 per cent of funding.

A sign of the times

Leeds' director of rugby, Andy Key, says it is "a fact of life" that their young stars Calum Clark, Joe Ford and Scott Armstrong have already signed for Northampton for next season. "You have to accept that, being bottom of the league, Northampton or Leicester will be more enticing," he said. "We are trying to build a club that guys stick with, come what may, and we've been heartened that Hendre Fourie and Scott Barrow have said they would stay with us even if we went down." But he added: "If someone's out of contract, you'd lose them."

Newcastle have already lost Mark Sorenson, Rob Miller and Tom Biggs to higher-placed clubs for next season, and Carl Hayman to Toulon – on top of the last two years' asset-stripping of Phil Dowson, Mathew Tait, Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Jamie Noon, Lee Dickson and Geoff Parling.

Sale are losing the scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth to Saracens and though the England players Mark Cueto, Tait and Andrew Sheridan are on long contracts, would they want to play second division rugby in the season preceding the 2011 World Cup?

Worcester have dealt with the threat by offering Premiership salaries to players including the England fly-half Andy Goode. "We have no reason to believe Andy won't be with us next season, whatever division we are in," said Little. They tempted the Ireland flanker Neil Best from Northampton with a three-year deal. But the England Saxons back-rower Tom Wood is moving to Saints. "A player's cycle is not that long," said Little. "Tom is looking for Heineken Cup rugby and England honours. We have to pay more than the market rate to get players in, and rely more on our academy."

A worrying development

Sale's owner, Brian Kennedy, said: "If the worst was to happen and we did go down, my commitment to the club would not change." But the reality is a drop in attendances and decreased revenues from hospitality and sponsorship after the loss of TV coverage.

Cutbacks and job losses are inevitable. Many back-office staff at Leeds have a dual role with the rugby league side, but there are 18 employed solely on the union team. Key warned: "We would need to keep the off-field team if the club is serious about getting back up and developing elite athletes."

Worcester have 20 people in the coaching set-up, 55 players in the senior and academy squads, and 50 "non-rugby" employees. The off-field business is thriving but there could be cuts in casual labour on match-days and the subsidised bus service for fans.

Sale have around 100 staff overall, and their new chairman, Harvey Samson, has "a vision of a highly competitive team... playing attractive rugby in a stadium that we can all be proud of". But attendances have fallen at Edgeley Park and Newcastle's Kingston Park, while Worcester have had only two sold-out matches this season.

Remaining fixtures Newcastle Falcons (9th place): today v Leicester (h); 23 April v Sale (a); 8 May v Wasps (h). Sale Sharks (10th): 23 April v Newcastle (h); 8 May v Harlequins (a). Leeds Carnegie (11th): today v London Irish (a); 25 April v Worcester (h); 8 May v Bath (a). Worcester Warriors (12th): 25 April v Leeds (a); 8 May v Gloucester (h).

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?