Exclusive: Community gaming will undergo a radical overhaul to cope with declining player numbers

The Rugby Football Union is radically reviewing the competition structures for community play with the aim of halting the decline in participation in the men’s XV match, Sport Telegraph can reveal.

The proposal to revamp the league structures below the championship has been hailed as a “defining moment” for the future of community gaming, which has been hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes to league structures will see National League One, the lower league league, reduced from 16 to 14 clubs, as will National League Two North and South.

Leagues from level five onwards will also see significant changes, with each league capped at 12 caps in an effort to introduce regionalization by “flattening the pyramid structure” to reduce travel time and costs for matches to the top. ‘exterior and player churn rate, with the number of leagues reduced from four to six.

The introduction of 2e XV in leagues is also being considered to maintain the integrity of the competition of more localized leagues.

New league structures will also for the first time include built-in rest periods, including a two-week break between competitive matches over Christmas, as well as a weekend off during the Fall Test Series and the Six Nations.

The RFU also plans to introduce a new National Cup competition at the end of the season, with a finals weekend under consideration at Twickenham.

The proposed changes were overwhelmingly approved by the RFU Council, although this season’s disruption due to the pandemic means the new structures will be in place for the start of the 2022/23 season – a year later than originally planned.

“I would like to think it will be a landmark decision,” said Stephen Pearson, chairman of the RFU task force that oversaw the restructuring plans. Sport Telegraph.

“What we are seeing is a persistent drop in the number of clubs participating in leagues and a drop in the number of games players are playing. They are clearly choosing to play less.

“What we hope is to reverse that as a first step and obviously if we can develop it gradually that would be fantastic. The competition structure is an extremely important tool to encourage participation in the game. Complex, hard to understand, intensive competitions that people don’t like to participate in, then they’ll go do something else and they’ll have a bunch of choices.

“It’s really important for the health of the game. This is focused on a structure that serves the players first and foremost – what the players are going to want to do, love to do and excite them and keep them in our sport and bring others into the game. Game. “

The new structures are a response to a nationwide consultation with clubs and players by the task force which concluded that current adult male competitions – historically based on a pyramid structure – were no longer suited to their role. goal.

Analysis of the task force, which is chaired by RFU board member Stephen Pearson, showed that clubs currently need an average of 43 players to complete a 1st season XV, resulting in a increasing number of results for lower teams. .

The survey also found that players wanted breaks built into the season and less travel.

“Right now teams can have 26 league games to complete and a lot of travel and when the season starts in September you basically play until Christmas,” added Pearson.

“Players find that difficult to complete and if they do it, they do it for shorter periods of time and then give up the game entirely. And that takes them away from coaching and volunteering. We want to better support the infrastructure on what gaming depends on and much like professional gaming, less is more.

“I hope that by making the sport more accessible and a little more ‘choose’ when players are available to play and take breaks and reduce travel, it will take the intensity out of it.”

Pearson also sees the creation of a new National Cup for each level as a way to keep players in the game with a celebration of community rugby with finals days played across the country.

“If you are a gamer and you travel up and down to complete a championship game over long distances, it can become a chore,” he added. “But if you play locally in your league and at the end of the season you get longer trips against different oppositions or on a final day – you create memories for the players.

“By creating a bit of space at the end of the season where we can play the knockout competition which will also guarantee the clubs the home games they lose after a shorter league season and see them playing different teams than ‘they would have played normally, at their level, so these are not current repeated devices.

“There is a lot of time to work on some specific details of the proposals for the flatness of the pyramid – how local the competition is and what the cup competition looks like at the end of the season. But the council voted overwhelmingly for the change.

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