The Rugby Football Union (RFU) Council has voted in favour of a number of features for a new competition structure for the adult male game from Level 3 down, scheduled to come into effect in the 2022/23 season.
The new measures aim to be more appealing to players as they juggle rugby with increasing demands on their time away from the game. The changes are designed to help arrest a decline in the number of adult men playing rugby union in the community game.
The features include limiting the amount of time players spend travelling to matches and shortening the length of league seasons. The priorities remain player welfare and protecting the sustainability of clubs.
The recommendations follow a series of consultations with clubs, coaches and players, in addition to webinars, a national survey and detailed analysis of the RFU’s Game Management System and Electronic Match Card data.
Evidence shows the number of teams playing in RFU leagues is reducing and players are choosing to play fewer games in a season. As a result, clubs need larger squads to complete their fixtures, which is having an adverse effect on Lower 15 match completion rates.
The features of the new competition structure voted on by Council includes:
The size of leagues at Levels 5 and below capped at 12 teams (reduced from 14).
The size of leagues at Levels 3 and 4 capped at 14 teams (reduced from 16).
The structured season will contain a protected two-week break over the Christmas period, rather than just reserve weekends.
The season will also contain protected weekend breaks from league rugby (at points to be determined through the season).
A National knockout Cup competition will be introduced at the end of the season (from Level 5 and below), leading to a Community Game Finals Day.
A review of specific aspects of the competition structure will take place every three years.