Eight National One clubs will have the chance to fight for a place in the Guinness Premiership under a new competition set to replace English rugby’s second tier.
The new 12-team Championship division is still subject to RFU Council approval but looks likely to get the green light from Twickenham following 12 months of talks between the RFU and the National One clubs’ umbrella body, First Division Rugby.
Under the new league rules, set to kick off for the 2009-10 season, the top eight finishers in the Championship will split into two groups of four playing home and away before semi-finals and a final to decide who gets the golden ticket to the Guinness Premiership.
RFU Management Board Chairman Martyn Thomas said: "The Championship will be a vital part of the structure of English rugby.
"For too long First Division Rugby has hovered between the community game and the Premiership, uncertain of both its standing in the structure and its future. Now is the time to establish its rightful place.
"The RFU is fully committed to funding and supporting a professional and robust league with minimum entry criteria and a salary cap that will support the Guinness Premiership.
"We will be increasing our funding to the new Championship from £1.65m a year to £2.3m and, under the new eight-year agreement, PRL have committed to a £1m per annum funding.
"That significant investment, coupled with more matches and television coverage under the Sky Sports contract, will give the clubs more financial security than ever before and create a vibrant and viable structure to take the game forward."
The radical new plans also include an overhaul of the much maligned EDF Energy Anglo-Welsh Cup, which is set to encompass Championship sides.
There will also be knock-on effects for the leagues below the Championship, as set out below:
Proposed Championship structure
- Reduction from 16 to 12 clubs
- 22 regular season matches
- Promotion play-offs for the top eight (each club to play minimum of six matches)
- Two pools of four, playing home and away
- Top two from each pool to play in Championship semi-finals
- Winning semi-finalists to play in Championship final
- Final could be played on a home and away basis or at Twickenham
- Winner of Championship final promoted to Guinness Premiership subject to meeting Minimum Standards Criteria
Relegation play-offs for the bottom four (each club to play minimum of six matches)
- Home and away fixtures
- Bottom club in play-off pool relegated to newly-named National Division One (level three)
Anglo-Welsh Cup (each club/region to play minimum of four matches)
- 12 Guinness Premiership clubs, four Welsh regions, four Championship clubs (one relegated from GP, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers in previous season's Championship, or National Division One for season 08-09)
- Four pools of five (three GP, one Welsh Region, one Championship club)
- Played on a home or away basis
- Pool winners qualify for the semi-finals
- Winning semi-finalists play in Cup final
Anglo-Welsh Trophy (each club to play minimum of six matches)
- Eight Championship clubs, eight Welsh Principality Premiership clubs
- Four regional pools of four to provide local derbies
- Played on a home and away basis
- Pool winners qualify for the semi-finals
- Winning semi-finalists play in Trophy final
Championship clubs will be guaranteed a minimum of 32 or 34 matches, (depending on which Anglo-Welsh tournament they play in) including 16 home games. Teams reaching the finals of both the Championship play-offs and an Anglo-Welsh tournament will play an additional four/five matches.
Entry and eligibility
- Clubs finishing 2nd to 11th in National Division One at end of season 2008-9 invited to join the Championship for 2009-10 along with relegated club from Guinness Premiership and promoted club from National Division Two
- Minimum entry criteria based on simplified version of Premiership criteria
- Salary cap based on simplified version of Premiership criteria
- If any clubs do not wish to join the Championship, invitations will be extended to the other four National Division One clubs and then top two from National Division Two based on league positions
- Rights fee share from Sky Sports for a new five-year agreement commencing in 2010-11
- PRL funding of £1m per annum to Championship over eight years
- RFU funding of £2.3m per annum comprising core funding in first two years to be then replaced by revenue for clubs fielding English Qualified Players and who invest in their facilities
National League competitions
- The new National Division One will become a 16-team league comprising five clubs not included in the Championship, nine clubs from National Division Two, one promoted from National Division Three South, one promoted from National Division Three North.
- The new National Division Two will become two leagues of 16 clubs divided into North and South divisions comprising clubs from the existing National Division Three North and South.
- The new National Division Three will be based divisionally on four leagues (South West, London, North and Midlands) comprising clubs from the current existing National Division Three and below.