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The Rugby Football Union announces plans to revitalize the game

The Rugby Football Union announces plans to revitalize the game

  • Written by Chris Jones
  • BBC rugby union correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

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Conor O'Shea (right) said England's rugby structure had “failed miserably” to give young talent a chance.

English rugby brokers have announced plans to revitalize the game in England after admitting they have “failed miserably” when it comes to developing young talent.

As part of a landmark new partnership, the Rugby Football Union plans to create a revamped second division league from the 2025-26 season.

This new league could give Wasps, London Irish, Worcester and Jersey Reds a lifeline back into professional rugby.

“We want, and must, be a world leader at all levels,” said Conor O'Shea of ​​the Russian Federation.

“It's a huge opportunity for us to shape the game for years to come.”

Among other proposals drawn up by governing bodies as part of the new Professional Gaming Partnership [PGP]:

  • Around 25 elite England players will receive hybrid or 'enhanced' contracts, giving the RFU greater control over players' workload, with enhanced individual development plans. [IDPs].
  • Premier League squads of around 35 senior players, supported by a dozen or so academy players, have been cut to prevent clubs from “hoarding” talent.
  • A centralized, unified database of strength and conditioning to allow better collaboration between clubs and national teams.
  • A “consistent and regular” program of England A matches, including a tour in summer 2025.

By reducing the size of the first team at Premier League clubs as well as creating a vibrant second-tier league, the RFU hopes to create a more efficient structure that provides younger players with more opportunities to play and develop.

“Talent recognition is not about spotting talent. It's about giving opportunities to talent, and that's where English rugby has failed miserably,” O'Shea explained.

“If you don't give players the right and proper time to play, they will never reach the maximum level they can reach.

“Our mission is to create this system that virtually dictates playing time.”

“Why wouldn't you want those brands in your league?”

The revamped tournament – which has been provisionally renamed 'Premiership II' – will give Wasps, London Irish, Worcester and Jersey Reds the chance to return to professional rugby without starting at the bottom of the RFU pyramid.

All four clubs have withdrawn from the leagues after ceasing operations, but the Russian Football Union will soon invite “expressions of interest” from clubs to join the Second Premier League. The selection process will begin at the beginning of 2024 and will end in June.

A range of minimum standards are currently being discussed, for example in relation to ground capacity, growth potential and team strength. Wasps have already indicated their intention to re-establish themselves in Kent.

However, this 'franchise' model was met with resistance by existing Championship clubs, who argued that all places in the new league should be earned on merit.

O'Shea says existing Championship clubs will be given first refusal to apply for a place in the new division, but an ambition to eventually gain promotion to the Premier League will be a prerequisite for entry.

“Ups and downs are a fundamental part of the whole sporting landscape in England,” O'Shea said.

“Believe [places in the league] It should be an expression of interest open to everyone, to make it the best and most sustainable league with the best teams.

“We'll put up a barrier that's not out of reach, and [the Championship clubs] It will be part of setting the new minimum operating standard, and then they can look at it and say: 'We're in' or 'We're out'.

Steve Diamond, the former Worcester and Sale boss who works in the RFU as a consultant, added: “If those clubs [Wasps, Worcester and London Irish] If they can look after their creditors in rugby, and do everything within the legal terms with their managers, why wouldn't you want those brands in your league?”

Strengthened contracts to give Borthwick more 'influence and control'

With 85% of revenue driven by the England men's senior team, the FA says the success of Steve Borthwick's side is “critical to the health and sustainability of rugby in England”.

A new contract model has been put in place, which the RFU hopes will lead to better cooperation between England and clubs and will give Borthwick more control when it comes to player conditioning and medical support.

As part of the PGP with Premier League clubs, Borthwick will be able to select approximately 50 players in his elite squad, with around 25 of them being part of the 'Enhanced Elite Squad'.

In a departure from the current structure, which sees players paid salaries by their clubs and match fees by the RFU, players in the enhanced EPS system will receive a payment of around £150,000 a year from the RFU, with the club paying a bonus of £150,000 a year. . The salary is above that. Each player will also be placed on an Individual Development Plan, or IDP.

O'Shea says this will allow Twickenham to have more “influence and control” in certain areas when a player is on club duty, such as medical and conditioning matters, although final decisions on selection will remain with the club's director of rugby.

Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the Russian Football Union, explained: “The old professional game agreement was about paying extra money for extra weeks of access to players.”

“This is very different. What we are paying for is more direct control and supervision over a core group of players.

“the previous [deal]The only word was “access.” “This is about control and development.”

RFU 'to review player welfare'

O'Shea also says the governing body will look to review and improve support for players following Owen Farrell's shock decision to step back from international rugby.

The former captain announced in November that he would not be available for England for the 2024 Six Nations to protect his mental health and his family.

“Sometimes you don't need to be involved in any sport to see really special people, and I hope so [Farrell] “He comes back refreshed,” O'Shea said.

“We just want to support him and are always looking to improve the overall care of the players. That is the most important thing.

“It's becoming more difficult and difficult to operate in some of these environments, so it's something we need to look at very carefully to make sure we're best in class when it comes to that.”

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