The format of the Gallagher Premiership has been criticised heavily in the last few years. As it is the top of the rugby pyramid in England, you would think that relegation is a threat to Premiership teams.
Can you be relegated from the Gallagher Premiership? Since 2021 there is no relegation in the Gallagher Premiership. This has been the case since the Covid-19 Pandemic when relegation was removed from the league to support clubs financially. Teams are still promoted, which means the league expanded from 12 to 13 and now 14 teams in the most recent 2022-23 season.
The Rugby Football Union’s council have now voted to add a play-off between the Premiership’s bottom side and the winners of the Championship deciding relegation in the 2023-24 season. Unless a new vote is made from the 2024-25 season promotion and relegation will return with the one up, one down format in place. The League will remain with 14 teams.
2022-23 Gallagher Premiership Table
Worcester Warriors and Wasps were suspended from the league in the 2022-23 season and their results have been removed from the table
Why were Wasps and Wolves suspended from the Gallagher Premiership?
Although the Gallagher Premiership was supposed to feature 13 teams in the 2022-23 season, its final table only shows 11, with 20 games played by each team. This is because Wasps and Worcester Warriors were suspended from the league.
Both sides were suspended for financial issues, Warriors announced in September 2022 and Wasps in October 2022.
Neither side are currently expected to return to the league for the 2023-24 season.
When the Gallagher Premiership was first formed, it was very much seen as rugby’s answer to the Football Premier League. Being the top of the rugby pyramid in England means relegation was part of the league. This was to encourage the teams in the lower divisions that they could get to the top flight.
It was also introduced so that teams at the bottom end of the Premiership still had a reason to play towards the end of the season, as they were desperate to avoid relegation. This was the case for the majority of Premiership seasons, with a couple of major exceptions like the 2001-02 season.
However, relegation is not currently a threat to Premiership teams because it was removed for the 2020-21 season. Saracens were the last team to get relegated from the Premiership not due to the team folding or going into administration. Relegation was removed due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the moment, there are not any immediate plans for Premiership Rugby to reintroduce relegation. There were not any plans going into the 2022-23 season for relegation in the Premiership due to the temporary removal of relegation imposed by the league, however this did not end up being the case.
You can still actually get relegated from the Premiership at the moment, although it is not really designed in the rules. While the team who finishes in last will not be relegated, team’s who go into administration will be relegated out of the Premiership. This was the case with Worcester Warriors and Wasps RFC.
Due to both teams being unable to continue to pay their players to finish the season, they were both relegated from the league. So, any team that goes into administration can be relegated from Premiership Rugby, as has been shown by the most recent season.
Why is there no relegation in Gallagher Premiership?
Relegation was included in the Gallagher Premiership for a long time; however, it was removed for the 2020-21 season onwards.
Relegation was removed to protect the finances of the Premiership clubs who were in the division when the Covid-19 pandemic caused issues in rugby’s finances. The teams in the topflight have large expenditure, mainly on player salaries, so that they can compete. When Covid-19 caused games to be played behind closed doors, these teams lost a huge amount of revenue.
Premiership Rugby wanted to protect the finances of its clubs and so removed relegation. There is a lot less revenue opportunities for clubs in the Championship, so this would have had a very detrimental impact on any Premiership team that was to be relegated.
At the time this was decided, it was very much seen as a temporary measure by Premiership Rugby. The aim was that once finances recovered post pandemic, relegation would be re-introduced to the league. This does still seem to be the aim of Premiership Rugby, however there are some issues.
Will the Gallagher Premiership bring back relegation?
Relegation has not been part of the Gallagher Premiership for the last few seasons due to the financial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this is very much seen as a temporary measure.
It seems like the Gallagher Premiership will bring back relegation, although there are a couple of issues with this. The first one is that the league plans to have 14 teams has been ruined by Wasps and Worcester going into administration. This means there are currently only 11 teams in the Premiership, making relegation less likely to be brought back.
The other issue is that Premiership Rugby does not believe that most of the clubs in the Championship fit the requirements to be in the division. Premiership Rugby requires a stadium to have a capacity of over 10,000 which has been the issue for previous Championship winners.
Premiership Rugby would only bring back relegation if promotion is also viable. But considering the high standards the league are setting are not being matched by any contending Championship side, this makes relegation much less likely to be reintroduced.
Premiership Rugby still seems keen on the idea, but we are yet to see any evidence of this actually taking place moving forwards.
Why can’t the Jersey Reds be promoted?
The Jersey Reds had a phenomenal 2022/23 season in the Championship, finishing the season at the top of the table after an intense battle with Ealing Trailfinders. Jersey won 20 of their 22 games in the season with just one loss, finishing on 100 points. Despite this success, they can’t be promoted to the Gallagher Premiership.
Jersey Reds can’t be promoted because their stadium does not meet the requirements of the Gallagher Premiership. Premiership rules state that each team must have a stadium which has a capacity of over 10,000. This is not the case for Jersey Reds.
They play at Stade Santander International in Jersey. This stadium has a capacity of just 4,000, meaning it would need a massive amount of investment to get to the standards of the Premiership. Jersey Reds are not the only team to be prevented from being promoted due to this rule.
Ealing Trailfinders won The Championship in the 2021-22 season, three points ahead of Doncaster Knights. Despite that, they were not promoted to the Gallagher Premiership, in part because their ground has a capacity of 4,000, the same as Jersey Reds.
It seems unlikely that this rule will be changed by Premiership Rugby anytime soon. They are hoping to keep big stadiums and big teams in the league, so it may be a long time before a new team like Ealing Trailfinders or Jersey Reds can be promoted to the Gallagher Premiership.