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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower