North Walsham and Norwich on the up as RFU apply ‘best playing record’ formula
- Credit: Archant
The RFU have confirmed the final league tables for the rugby season – which is good news for some, as Paul Morse reports
Five weeks on from taking an unassailable lead in London One North, North Walsham Vikings’ promotion has been confirmed.
Victory over Harpenden on the last day of February gave them a 24-point lead with four games left and a maximum of 20 points available, but then coronavirus struck, the season ended with no more games played and the RFU pondered what to do.
Ireland, Scotland and Wales all declared their seasons null and void so abandoning promotion and relegation, but, with 80pc of the season played, the England RFU decided on a different approach, finalising league positions using “a best playing record formula”.
Abandonment of the season would have hit North Walsham hard.
Whilst promotion is achieved by a single season’s results, it is the outcome of years of effort.
“The news is a great relief,” said chair Keith Jarvis. “We’ve had a truly outstanding season, but have been building for promotion on and off the field for four years, putting in place the infrastructure to give us the best opportunity to be successful in the league above.
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“Not being promoted would have been a blow to our development. I’m also pleased they’ve come to a decision quickly, so we can continue planning for next season with surety.”
Deciding placings with games unplayed was obviously a challenging task and some clubs will feel aggrieved, the Vikings being just one of a few sides nationwide to already be unassailable.
Supporters throughout the land will doubtless question the logic of some decisions. One particularly contentious issue is the play-offs. Two leagues feed into one, with the runners-up in each playing a one-off game for a third promotion spot. In London One that third spot has been awarded to Westcombe Park, who join Havant in being promoted from London One South, with Colchester and Haberdashers from North missing out. Looking at their respective records that must have been a tough one, notwithstanding the presumption that the quality of the two leagues is the same.
The RFU recognises not everyone will be happy.
“This has been a difficult decision to make in the most unprecedented of circumstances,” said RFU president Peter Wheeler.
“There is no single solution that will suit every club, but we believe the decisions made provide fair and balanced outcomes for the game and maintain the integrity of the competitions.”
Priorians, Woodford and Ruislip are relegated from the Vikings’ league. Amongst their replacements are Norwich, unbeaten and 13 points clear when the curtain fell.
Other local clubs changing leagues are West Norfolk (promoted) and Holt and Beccles, both relegated. The complete makeup of London & South East Premier won’t be finalised until the RFU have decided which Level 5 league some teams are allocated to but, with Guernsey and Rochford promoted, and London Irish Wild Geese, Bedford Athletic and Guildford relegated, Sutton are likely to be amongst the newcomers along with the aforementioned three from London One.
Meanwhile, there must be severe question marks around the sport’s viability in its current format.
Business models of the many clubs outside the Premiership paying players could be unsustainable as funders tighten their belts. Rugby’s history since allowing payments to players 25 years ago is littered with clubs racing up the leagues funded by benefactors and sponsors, only to go into free-fall once the money is withdrawn. With the state of the economy so uncertain, players’ livelihoods further up the leagues could be at risk, and the hopes of those seeking to play even semi-professionally possibly ruined.
Unlike most at their level, North Walsham do not pay players, but there will be higher bills, most obviously for travel and overnight accommodation, in a league extending to Hampshire, and the club is very concerned about sponsors having to withdraw.
There must be doubts, too, if next season will begin on time: pre-season training normally starts early July. All these issues, though, pale into insignificance as the world grapples with matters far bigger than rugby.