RIL recently sat down with Doncaster Knights hooker George Edgson to future of Greene King IPA Championship. From funding cuts to the England squad, take a look at George’s thoughts in this exclusive Q&A session.

Rugby Inside Line: Do you think that the RFU made the correct decision in ending the Greene King IPA Championship season when they have announced that the Gallagher Premiership campaign could still be finished?

George Edgson: I think it was the correct decision by the RFU to end the season early. The safety of players, fans and everyone involved in the game is paramount. Rugby will always have a tomorrow.

I think the Premiership still has a hope of restarting. However, it’s so hard to see when that will possibly be when you consider the Government’s decision to continue lockdown for ‘at least’ three more weeks. It has been made very public that Premiership clubs need the money from BT Sport and ticket sales, in the attempt to help them financially, so they will be doing all they can to get the season completed.

RIL: What are your thoughts on Newcastle Falcons being automatically promoted from the Championship?

George Edgson: Newcastle’s promotion back to the Premiership was 100% the correct decision. Earlier in the season, they beat Ealing with a bonus point in their own back yard. That game showed their quality and they ultimately went on to win every game they played in.

With seven games remaining, the Falcons only needed to win two more games to be mathematically promoted before the arrival of COVID-19. One of those games was against bottom of the table side Yorkshire Carnegie. No disrespect to Carnegie, but based on their form, you’d like to think Newcastle would have gained 5 points from that game, moving themselves one step closer to promotion.

RIL: One of the talking points of English rugby this year has been the announcement that the RFU plans to drastically reduce their funding of the Championship over the next few seasons. What effect will these cuts have directly on players and their development?

George Edgson: The Championship has needed an injection of funding for a very long time. For the higher powers within the RFU to cut the budget by 50%, as they don’t see it as a pathway to develop players, is going to have a detrimental impact on Championship players and their development. I think, in my opinion, and along with thousands of others in the rugby community, the RFU could not of made a more diabolical call; it’s an absolute shambles.

Clearly the Championship has been a proven pathway to develop players towards the England squad. Out of the 34-man EPS announced for the 2020 Six Nations squad, there were 11 players who had played Championship rugby in recent years. These players used the league as a steppingstone on their journey to international honours.

As a result of the lack of funding from the RFU, the Championship next season will undoubtedly be split, with 50% of clubs still financially having the ability to be full time and 50% of clubs who will have to go part time. For the league to thrive, produce players and attract fans there has to be an element of professionalism throughout it.

There has been the odd example of part time clubs doing well, such as Ampthill finishing fourth this season, and Richmond mixing well in the league for numerous years before they got relegated. However, the part time clubs don’t always attract the most talented players.

If the whole league decides to run part time programmes, then the standard within it will drop as they’ll be nothing drawing in the young and ambitious players who wish to play professional week in week out rugby. With a more ‘semi-professional’ league, you simply won’t see a great deal of players developing to bigger and better things. Furthermore, with a drop in the standard of the Championship, you’ll undoubtedly see an even bigger influx of foreign players arrive in the Premiership as the Premiership clubs won’t be looking to the ‘semi-professional’ Championship to build their squads.

RIL: Do you worry that a ringfenced Premiership would put an end to the Championship over the coming years?

George Edgson: I think ringfencing the Premiership would leave the Championship in a state of stagnation. Let’s be honest, whether you’re fighting at the bottom of the table or at the top, the ever-present possibility of promotion crosses every clubs mind. Having been at Ealing last year, it was exciting to be a part of a squad that at one point was neck and neck with London Irish. There was that genuine ambition to get promoted. If that we’re to be taken away, then I don’t know how competitive the league would be. I think you’d see some of the more heavily funded and ambitious clubs try and break away to other leagues, like the Pro14.

Like many fans who watched the Championship over the years, I’d love to see the ‘playoffs’ be brought back to add excitement.

RIL: Do you think that these funding cuts will have a negative impact on the future of the England team?

George Edgson: With funding cuts looking like they’re going to stick I think you’ll definitely see the rate of players going from the Championship to the national side decline. The Premiership academy’s now have such good resources whether it’s the coaching or strength and conditioning, giving the ability to help the younger players transition from the academies to the first team.

RIL: What are your thoughts on going toe-to-toe with Saracens next season?

George Edgson: I don’t think many players will be phased at the prospect of playing Saracens next season. Every game in Championship is tough and 99% of the time the games are not so one sided, even if you are the newly Premiership-relegated side. Their squad is littered with some unbelievable talent, so I think every club will relish the opportunity to take them on.

I think a lot of rugby fans outside of the Championship think that English rugby’s second division, and the players in it, are so far off anything and anyone associated with the Premiership. The majority of the players in the league have previously played in the Premiership or have been associated with a Premiership side. Players are very capable of competing with those who come down from the Premiership, even international players.

RIL: If you had the opportunity, what is one thing that you would want to say to the RFU about their decision to cut funds to the Championship?

George Edgson: I don’t think I need to say anything directly to the RFU. They know deep down that they’ve made a poor decision. If they’re in denial, then they just need to look at the backlash on social media from fans and players that came through the league.

RIL: What are your predictions for the 2020-21 Championship season? Who do you think will be promoted/relegated and why?

George Edgson: I’m not sure who will potentially get relegated next season from the Championship. I hope you’ll see a very competitive league, like it was this season with lots of movement in the table. I’m looking forward to seeing how Richmond get on, they are a really well organised club with a great environment. Sometimes that’s all you need to succeed in the league.

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