As the coronavirus continues to cause significant disruptions to top-flight rugby, the RFU has elected to get rid of relegation from the Premiership for the 2020/21 season.
After a vote passed on Friday with a “strong majority”, the league will expand to 13 teams next term, with one side being promoted from the Championship.
The RFU has recognised the significance of the numerous match cancellations, due to virus outbreaks within squads. In a statement the RFU said: “These cancellations have resulted in a material impact on league positions which could mean relegation based on cancellation not on field merit.”
Over the course of the next four months, the RFU will work alongside Premiership Rugby and Championship representatives to try and prepare a solution for the 2021/22 season. Both the Premiership and Championship domestic calendars will undergo a full review to “allow additional preparation time for the England senior men’s team ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.”
The Championship season has also scrapped relegation, but one team will still gain promotion into the expanded 13-team Premiership.
BT Sport have raised concerns that the excitement and drama which a relegation battle normally brings at the end of the season will reduce viewership. However, these concerns are said to have been allayed by the fact Friday’s decision is just for this season.
“The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game,” RFU president Jeff Blackett said.
The RFU also agreed that from Monday, Covid-19 testing will go back to once a week in the Premiership and Championship. Looking forward to the Championship season commencing on 6 March, this will greatly reduce the financial burden that more frequent testing would have caused.
This decision has been made in light of the dropping infection rate across the UK. Chair of the Professional Game Board, Chris Booy, said, “The testing system will continue to be closely monitored and any changes will be made with the support of scientific advice.”