Skewed finances leave Championship a poor second best

 

News of the agonising decision facing poor old Theo Walcott – the Arsenal player who can barely sleep at night, worrying whether he might sell himself catastrophically short by signing a new contract worth a mere £75,000 a week – puts the second tier of English rugby and its business model into some kind of perspective.

The resolutely unsponsored RFU Championship begins this evening when Nottingham meet Leeds at Meadow Lane and, whatever the outcome of the game, neither club will find themselves rolling in cash.

Provided clubs meet requirements on fielding English-qualified personnel, they will receive around £300,000 each from the central pot. That's £300,000 for the entire squad for the entire campaign, not per player per month. The governing body thought this agreement was worthy of a small fanfare when it announced the details a few days ago, but the teams involved are not in the mood to throw a party. As Geoff Irvine, chairman of the highly competitive Bedford Blues, put it: "It would cost millions to move up to the Premiership. What's wrong with being the 14th best club in the country?"

There is no obvious sign of the Championship developing at anything like the pace of the Pro D2 league in France, which this season features some of the most driven clubs in the land, no fewer than 10 of whom are attempting to regain top-flight status. In England, only a minority of contenders are interested in promotion.

At least the players will be interested in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take on the New Zealand Maori, one of world rugby's more evocative sides, during the autumn. Now called the "Maori All Blacks", the tourists will play three games in England in November: against Leicester at Welford Road, the Canadian Test team in Oxford (where else?) and a Championship XV at Castle Park, the home of the Doncaster club. Mike Rayer, the rugby director at Bedford, will coach the select side, aided by Liam Middleton of Bristol and Diccon Edwards of Leeds.

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