Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes: Keep promotion and relegation in the Premiership
Last Updated: 08/01/19 3:14pm
Stuart Barnes gives his backing to the promotion/relegation system in the Premiership, and previews round five of Europe...
1. The English rugby world is again abuzz with rumours regarding relegation, or the lack of it. It is the Holy Grail for some who have admittedly invested a great deal of time, money and energy in the rugby union project.
Yet in the process the sport has become a business as well as a game and the last I knew business was supposed to thrive on competition. The closing of the trap door does the exact opposite and turns the business of professional club rugby in England into a monopoly.
Yes, I know I have banged on about this subject before but it's too important not to reiterate. Without promotion/relegation there would be no Exeter. Without promotion and relegation there would be no dreams either. Clubs like Ealing Trailfinders should not have the door slammed in their face, nor, for example the Pirates.
The RFU must hold firm against the siren calls that no relegation will strengthen the national team, that no relegation will bring an end to turgid, nervous rugby. When the Premiership is dominated by good teams the national team does well. Saracens were below par last season and England slumped. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not.
Poor teams are in the relegation fight because they don't play well enough; more wit and invention and they wouldn't be near the bottom in the first place. In short, the professional game should be judged first and foremost on the field. Not the board room.
2. Let's consider what has been and what might happen on the field. On Friday night Sale beat Saracens. Saracens and Exeter are taking the foot off the accelerator.
That's the problem with a knockout system - although until the club game isn't as affected by the international game as it currently is, there's not much option, other than a 10-team league with an infinitely more interesting Championship.
I'm not holding my breath waiting for the gang of 13 to agree with me on that one.
3. Tom Curry played extremely well. It looks like he is a natural replacement for the injured Sam Underhill. The loss of the Bath flanker is a major blow. This takes nothing away from Curry, but Underhill has learned a lot about the openside game in Wales and recently from Francois Louw. He appears to the man England has been missing for so long.
4. Four yellow cards for his club, Bath, in defeat at Worcester. Persistent infringement, close to their own try line, nothing wrong with the cards but quite how Aled Brew didn't concede a penalty try as well when he rushed from an offside position to stop a three on nothing overlap was beyond me.
Recollections of Ben Smith doing the same time and again in an All Black jersey and getting away with nothing but the card, especially in New Zealand.
Ben Te'o is the man in the running for international honours but the Worcester centre to catch the eye was the South African, Francois Venter, who picked some consummate running lines.
5. Wasps beat Northampton without any glimpses of their golden running game. Gloucester are finding it hard to find their rhythm without their fly-half.
Yes, Danny Cipriani's qualities are shown as much in his absence as when he is on the field. Watch Gloucester get their game back together when he returns.
6. On Friday night Johan Ackermann's side have to beat Munster at home to keep alive their Heineken Champions Cup hopes. Munster need a win to keep a buffer between themselves and an Exeter team expected (by me at least) to produce a bonus-point win against Castres in Devon.
I had the privilege to be at 'the miracle match' when Munster secured the four tries needed and exceeded the points difference required in the fading minutes. Something half as good would be a sensational way to kick start round five.
7. A word for Benetton; another impressive scalp. This time it was Glasgow going down. The Scottish team have developed a losing habit when they need to put Cardiff Blues away and pick up a bonus point this weekend. Benetton, third in their conference, are threatening a long-awaited Italian breakthrough in PRO14 Rugby.
8. Few teams have looked more dangerous in Europe than Racing 92. I called Saturday night's game against Toulon. They had the look of a team with their mind elsewhere. Ulster away is a crucial fixture.
For three-quarters of the game they were terrible; for 20 minutes they were tremendous. Nobody sums up the threat from their offloading game quite like Leone Nakarawa. The Fijian is an utter original.
9. Watching Racing, I was again struck by the quality of Teddy Iribarren, their starting scrum-half. Maxime Machenaud is coming back from a long injury absence but I reckon Teddy has the brain and the game to oust him long term as Racing's number one No 9 and push up the pecking order in France.
He doesn't seem overly rated but I'll stand by him. Dupont is playing brilliantly for Toulouse and Baptiste Serin is capable of magic, although he is yet to take his chances in national colours.
Jacques Brunel is blessed with a number of scrum-halves capable of cutting it at test level. It's a question of finding the right man.
10. On the subject of Toulouse, their visit to Leinster is the most attractive fixture of the weekend. They eased off against Agen but will need to be at their offloading best in Dublin.
The back three are playing brilliantly along with Big Joe Tekori. The champions will need to be near their best in a game where bonus points could go a long way into deciding which of these teams will have a home quarter-final, or probably an away trip as one of the best three runners up. Enjoy!