The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby (PRL) have agreed a progressive new partnership for the next eight years.
The ground-breaking agreement for club and country will see Premiership clubs benefit from the successful financial performance of England Rugby for the first time, as PRL and the RFU have agreed an appropriate share of rugby revenues as a basis for the investment over the life of the deal, which lasts until July 2024. This will enable both the RFU and the clubs to continue to grow together on and off the pitch, and to ensure all parties work together to make the domestic game and England international teams stronger in the future.
The partnership is worth over £200 million, with the first four-year payment fixed at £112 million. The second four-year payment could potentially be higher than £112 million, subject to financial performance under the rugby revenue share partnership approach. The funding model for the clubs is based on the English Qualified Player (EQP) threshold being met, the Elite Player Squads (EPS) and standards for club academies being achieved.
The Professional Game Agreement will see the England Elite Player Squad (EPS) increase from 33 to 45 players and greater flexibility during core international periods so 36 players can be selected for the camp instead of 33. The England head coach will now also be able to make the final selection of 45 squad members in the first week of October. A reduced number of 20 players will also be selected as part of a Next EPS squad for training camps and possible England Saxons fixtures.
An England two-day training camp will continue to take place ahead of the start of the Aviva Premiership season in August, plus an additional two-day camp in the beginning of October. There will also now be an additional camp prior to the Six Nations in the first week in January. No players will be released back to clubs in the preparation week, two weeks before the first match of the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations, which means they will miss one ‘club’ weekend.
Welfare remains an important priority. The England players involved in November who pass a threshold of minutes played in a match will have a mandatory one weekend rest period over Christmas. Those who play throughout the Six Nations and pass a threshold of minutes played will also have one weekend off in the four weeks following the competition.
As part of a regular season England players will continue to have, as a minimum, a 10-week off-season in the summer for rest and preparation prior to the first weekend of the Premiership Rugby season. On average last season, players involved in the England senior side played an equivalent of just over 23 matches, well under the maximum limit of 32.
The announcement follows on from a new five-year funding deal between the RFU, Rugby Players Association and PRL last season which sees a minimum of £7m injected into the RPA welfare, personal development and education programmes to support 650 current, and over 350 former, RPA members.
The new agreement will include increased funding of Academies, and new Academy licences have been awarded to 14 professional clubs. This will build on the success of the England Rugby academy system and will see increased investment directed to develop players of the highest quality for clubs and the national team. The recent successes of the England U20s side, winning three World Rugby U20 Championship titles in the last four years, highlights the partnership between the RFU and clubs in producing thriving Academies.
The Greene King IPA Championship will continue to have play-off finals in the 2016/17 season. However the format will be negotiated between the Championship clubs, RFU and PRL for the following season and beyond as to whether there is a play-off system to decide promotion.
Premiership Rugby will now manage and sell the commercial rights of the Anglo-Welsh Cup from the beginning of this season while the RFU will continue to regulate the competition.
The new partnership will not affect the level of investment the RFU puts into the community game. Last year saw record levels being invested into grassroots rugby in England, across a multitude of areas.
The RFU and Premiership Rugby will also commit to a multi-million pound community programme.
“Success for England and the clubs depends on an effective partnership between the RFU and Premiership Rugby on many levels,” said Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive.
“We've seen that emerge from the last few years of the previous agreement and this new one is capable of setting the platform for a period of sustained success for both club and country, as we look to build on the strong finish to last season.
"The next year will also be very important in working together to secure the necessary improvements to the global season structure.
“The significantly increased monies to the Premiership clubs, alongside their own increased TV and commercial revenues, will ensure that Aviva Premiership Rugby continues to go from strength-to- strength based on world-class England Qualified Players and a very strong academy pipeline of talent. In addition, this is intended to underpin further European success."
Ian Ritchie, RFU chief executive, added: “This is a true partnership focussed on making English rugby the best in the world for club and country. A strong partnership between the RFU and the PRL is critical if we are to grow professional rugby across the country for the benefit of the players, fans and the game.
“Player welfare, as ever, is a priority for us all, and so further rest periods have been built into the season. The RFU is focussed on investing in Premiership clubs, to ensure they are sustainable, thriving businesses, which will develop players for the national game.
“We look forward to working with Premiership Rugby over the next eight years to promote and support rugby in England.”