RFU relegation fear set to scupper current plans for Nations Championship

Nigel Melville, the RFU Director of Professional Rugby, has voiced his concerns. Picture: Getty Images
Nigel Melville, the RFU Director of Professional Rugby, has voiced his concerns. Picture: Getty Images
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Acting English rugby chief Nigel Melville says the prospect of the England team being relegated from the Six Nations would be “catastophic” – comments which deal a major blow to World Rugby’s proposed Nations Championship.

It has been speculated that, were England to drop into a tier-two competition, Twickenham might have to be sold to cover for the inevitable collapse in revenue.

Acting Rugby Football Union chief executive Nigel Melville is determined to avoid the doomsday scenario – however unlikely – of a two-year spell outside of the sport’s most successful annual tournament.

It is a stance which appears to end the prospect of the Nations Championship being approved in its current format, with Melville insisting the RFU will not allow ownership of its 82,000-capacity ground to ever be threatened.

He said: “I think we make sure it doesn’t arise. That solves that problem. You just don’t want to get into a situation where you’re making decisions like that.

“For us it could be catastrophic being relegated, commercially. To be relegated, the catastrophe isn’t just the team being relegated, it’s our ability to fund the game as a governing body in England.

“Can we fund the community game in England to the level we do now if we don’t have the revenues we have?

“And on the point of promotion and relegation, there’s no promotion and relegation in a Lions year and there’s no tournament in a World Cup year.

“So when you’re relegated, you’re relegated for two years, not one. It’s not quite up and down, one season on the naughty step and go back up, it’s actually two years and that could be a disaster for people.”

The Nations Championship is World Rugby’s vision for the global game after Japan 2019 and takes the format of a new cross-hemisphere league in which the top teams from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship would collide at the end of the year.

Relegation and promotion based on overall league performance is a foundation of the plan in the hope it will create depth by offering tier two teams a place among the elite, but some European unions including Ireland and Scotland are vehemently opposed to it.

World Rugby insists it has investment of £5 billion over 12 years to inject into the Nations Championship, while the Six Nations has its own cash source in the shape of a large offer from private equity firm CVC Partners.

The RFU board will continue its discussions before another meeting of the Six Nations unions is held.

A decision must be made in two weeks and, for the Nations Championship to proceed, there has to be unanimous support from all teams involved. As if all those hurdles were not enough to overcome, Melville outlined other concerns held at 
Twickenham.

These are the integrity of the competition in Lions and World Cup years, the issue of the global final falling outside of the international window thereby requiring clubs to release their players for additional Tests, player welfare issues and the current lack of a credible tier-two tournament to drop into.

“We talk about a global window and it makes sense to look at those windows to see if they can be combined,” Melville said.

“The narrative makes sense, but there are obvious concerns coming out of the proposal.”