The COVID Recovery Plan is aimed at improving the financial stability and sustainability of professional rugby during the next three seasons while also providing benefits for England Rugby and the community game.
The Covid Recovery Plan, with a temporary pause on relegation, follows a detailed consultation that was announced in February after the RFU Council voted in favour of no relegation from Gallagher Premiership Rugby or the Greene King IPA Championship for the 2020/21 Season. The extensive consultation included Premiership Rugby and their clubs, Championship clubs, The RPA, RFU Board and RFU Council.
The changes that will now be introduced include:
- The expansion of the Premiership to 14 clubs at the end of the 2021/22 season through the promotion (subject to meeting the required minimum standards) of the winner of the Championship, while supporting player welfare by maintaining the maximum game play limits and guaranteed rest periods*.
- Revised minimum standards criteria for clubs wishing to be promoted to the Premiership with wider game benefits such as financial sustainability, governance, player welfare, stadium facilities, medical provisions, safeguarding and community plans.
- A 2022/23 season in which no side will be relegated from or promoted to the new 14-team Premiership, allowing clubs to plan with greater certainty and supporting the recently promoted clubs in making the transition between leagues.
- A play-off in the 2023/24 season between the club finishing bottom of the Premiership and the winner of the Championship (subject to that club meeting the required minimum standards), with the result to decide which club plays in the Premiership during the following season.
- From August 2024, the intention is to move to a position where there is a mandatory England Qualified Players (EQPs) system under which Premiership clubs must have a minimum of 15 EQPs in each match-day squad and the end of the foreign player rule to provide better England player development opportunities while giving greater flexibility for Premiership clubs to select non-EQP players of any nationality. There is further work to do to agree the detail of this subject to a new Professional Game Agreement (PGA) and introduction into regulation
- Increased preparation time for the England men’s squad ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup as a result of an earlier end to the Premiership season in May 2023.
- A commitment by the RFU and PRL to maintain current levels of funding to the Championship until the end of the PGA in 2024, providing a greater level of certainty for member clubs.