The Rugby Football Union says it will be flabbergasted if Rotherham, favourites to win the National League One title and, by extension, a place in the Premiership, fail to pass a second and final promotion audit at the end of March. Indeed, the great and good of Twickenham will be more than a little put out if the Yorkshiremen do not stack up in a fortnight's time, when their credentials will be given an interim once-over.
But nothing concerning Rotherham is straightforward. Refused promotion last season – their home ground of Clifton Lane failed the criteria test on virtually every count, and they failed to provide the RFU with proper details of their proposed ground-share with the town's football team – they are now safely ensconced at Millmoor, a decent enough stadium capable of satisfying all requirements. However, they are also the subject of unsubstantiated reports to the effect that a majority of Premiership clubs conspired to buy them off last season as a means of protecting their own top-flight status.
"We have received no complaint from anyone in respect of any malpractice," said Graeme Cattermole, the RFU chairman. "If evidence is brought forward and substantiated, an investigation will be conducted and, if necessary, a disciplinary hearing will be held.
"We are the governing body of the game in England, and if people break the rules they can expect to be punished. But on this matter, we have heard nothing at all. No allegations of any kind have been laid before us."
Unsurprisingly, the union is heartily sick of the Rotherham issue, and uncomfortably aware of the prospect of another public relations catastrophe in the spring. Yesterday, Cattermole insisted once again that the RFU's decision to block Rotherham's promotion last April was perfectly above board. "I was involved in a lot of what went on, and I can state categorically that we were not in cahoots with the Premiership clubs," he asserted. "I would stand up in court and say as much. I am absolutely clear that Rotherham could not meet the agreed criteria."
As things stand, there will be relegation from the Premiership this season – a possibility that is already exercising the minds of Newcastle and Bath, the two sides most obviously at risk. Rob Andrew, the Newcastle director of rugby, is signing up every southern hemisphere professional he claps eyes on in an effort to strength his inexperienced, half-baked side for the second half of the season. Bath, up against the salary cap and short of cash, are hoping Matt Perry, Mike Catt and Dan Lyle will regain full fitness sooner rather than later.
All this relegation paranoia does little for player development: neither club will be in a hurry to fast-track bright young academy talent in the coming months. But they can expect no sympathy from the RFU, despite the inevitable and damaging outbreak of short-termism. "Our job is to implement the regulations," Cattermole said. "The clubs entered into the current agreement with their eyes open."Reuse content