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Bring back relegation, and do it fast

Big margins of victory can happen from time to time but a West Country derby being decided by 64 points shows why relegation can’t return to the Premiership soon enough.

I’m not accusing the Bath players of not caring or not trying but the lack of jeopardy means subconsciously they aren’t at the level they should be at and the league suffers as a result.

There is just a single point between them and Worcester at the bottom of the table and there is no way in a million years that they are losing 64-0 to Gloucester with two rounds to go if their place in the top flight is at stake.

Sam Underhill put himself about but some of the other Bath players, while they may care, were an embarrassment to the jersey in a fixture that goes back 140 years and means so much to the fans.

All the talk recently has been about Ealing being denied a place in the Premiership, and the debate around that is well documented, but the league is too big as it is and should be cut back down to 12 teams with relegation reintroduced as soon as possible .

The problem with that is the turkeys would have to vote for Christmas. All the clubs would have to agree to put themselves at risk of losing a hell of a lot of money again and they just aren’t going to do that after the couple of years we’ve just had.

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

You can understand why but that self-interest and short-termism is damaging the league as a product and results like the one in the West Country derby lay that bare.

I’ve always been an advocate of promotion and relegation in general and, while I appreciate the case for doing away with it temporarily, I think it has to return quicker than Premiership Rugby and the RFU originally planned.

A proposal approved last June removed the threat of relegation this season and next but those plans have already gone up in smoke to a certain extent as the Championship winners were supposed to be coming up this year and that isn’t the case.

Premiership Promotion Championship
(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

I have heard rumors of the Premiership becoming a 14-team league in the near future but with two conferences and seven clubs in each and I just can’t see how that can be a good idea at all.

That is the sort of approach we have seen in the United Rugby Championship and Super Rugby where attendances and TV contracts have suffered. In contrast, promotion and relegation is alive and well in French rugby and that is thriving.

A lot of attention has been on the top two thirds of the Premiership with the battle to make the top four a decent one involving a number of sides thankfully but the race for the Champions Cup is just a case of eight teams from the top nine making it and there is no interest at all in the bottom third of the league because of the absence of relegation.

Commercially, that just is no good at all in terms of ticket sales or TV deals and I think someone needs to get the club owners together and make them see a long-term vision.

Teams and players shouldn’t be able to go through the motions and talk about rebuilding when coaches and teammates are heading for the exit because they know nothing is on the line.

Stuart Hooper’s side have had issues all season as evidenced by their then record 71-10 Premiership Cup defeat to Gloucester in November and their biggest ever home defeat to their great rivals on Boxing Day but this is another level.

Bath Stuart Hooper
Stuart Hooper/PA

Bath losing 64-0 at Kingsholm is an absolute disgrace and the players and coaches will have to answer questions about their own performances but it doesn’t look good for the league and that wider point is more important.

There is no reason, apart from self-interest, that relegation couldn’t be reintroduced next season to cut the league to 12 teams with a play-off between the side finishing bottom of the Premiership and top of the Championship thereafter.

As things stand, automatic promotion and relegation is not due to return to the top end of English rugby until the 2024-25 season at the earliest, with a considerable caveat as to whether it will even do so then.

On the evidence of what we’ve seen this season, with Bath’s 64-0 humiliation at Gloucester the lowest ebb, I worry about how much damage will have been done to the league as a product by then. A new plan is needed with relegation back on the table far sooner.

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