Sir Ian McGeechan, the man jointly-tasked with leading a performance review of England elite rugby, has called for relegation to be scrapped from the Aviva Premiership for five years.
Former Bath director of rugby McGeechan and former UK Sport performance director Peter Keen have been commissioned by the RFU to come up with a blueprint to improve English rugby at international level.
His ideas on club rugby will not form part of the review but McGeechan – the former British Lions coach, now chairman of Leeds Carnegie – believes removing the fear of relegation for five years could revolutionise the club game.
He believes it would allow clubs to draw on the advantages enjoyed by the Super 15 sides in the southern hemisphere. McGeechan said: “There is an argument, and I know people disagree with me, that if you want rugby to be the best product then you don’t have relegation.
“If you want club rugby to be the best business then you give it time as a business to establish itself. It may not be just 12 clubs, if there are 14 or 15 clubs that are set up to be professional in the right way why not make a 15-club league?
“And then say for five years ‘this is our business, we want to make it work, coaches – we want an attractive positive game, there’s no fear of relegation. There’s no kicking the leather off the ball and only playing 20 metres out from your opponents’ line’.
“Then there would be no reason not to put the best product out on the field and that is one of the advantages the Super 15 has.
“They can do that without inhibition and you challenge players in a different way.”
McGeechan said the fear of relegation often contributed to Premiership games being too negative. He added: “The nitty-gritty of the Premiership is that it is a tough competition. Speak to some of the southern hemisphere players and it is the toughest competition you can play in because week in and week out you are working very hard to win games and it is very competitive.
“But are you getting the best product out of that or could it be better?
“Remove relegation for that period and that gives five years for Championship clubs to get the model right and have the right facilities and infrastructure if they want to be a Premiership club. Or if you keep relegation, have the bottom club playing off against the top club in the Championship.”