Promotion and relegation – the life-enhancing dynamic that makes the Guinness Premiership infinitely more interesting than the southern hemisphere's self-serving Super 14 competition – will remain in place until 2016 if the top-flight professional clubs ratify a deal with the Rugby Football Union, thereby bringing to an end more than a decade of squabbling. Rob Andrew, the elite director of rugby at Twickenham, confirmed yesterday that the automatic one-up, one-down arrangement had been deemed sacrosanct.
The Premiership clubs are now considering the fine detail of a complex agreement that, in Andrew's words, will "reinvent the professional game". Under terms approved by both the RFU management committee and the full council earlier this week, international players will spend a month in England camp during the autumn Test window and spend two months together before and during the Six Nations Championship. A proportion of central funding will be allocated according to the number of England squad members supplied by each club.
Andrew expressed confidence that a lasting agreement would be reached. "We've spent 12 years trying to reach a position where the club-versus-country issue, with the players caught in the middle, might be resolved," he said. "The RFU negotiating team will sign immediately. The clubs are going through their own process, but I believe they will also sign."
While Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby Ltd, was cautious in his response to the news that the union had ratified the proposed deal, leading officials at individual clubs said they were backing the agreement, worth in the region of £12m a year for player release alone. "We're 100 per cent behind it," said one senior figure. "The discussions are finally over."