Ealing and Doncaster await verdict after applying to join Premiership

Ealing and Doncaster are still in the dark over their Premiership promotion hopes after applying to join the expanded top division next season… with both clubs proposing stadium expansions to satisfy the RFU

  • Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster applied to join the Premiership last month 
  • Rugby Union’s top division is set to expand to 14 teams in the 2022/23 season
  • The two clubs are battling it out for top spot in the Championship this term 
  • But neither side is prepared to buy Premiership shares if they gain promotion 

Promotion to the Premiership may be decided off the field at the end of this month as Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster wait to discover if they will qualify for entry into the expanded top division.

Ealing and Doncaster are the only two clubs who have applied to go up from the 11-team Championship. Doncaster are leading the second-tier table but Trailfinders are level on points and the west London club have two games in hand.

While Jersey and Cornish Pirates are close behind in third and fourth, neither club has designs on joining the elite at this stage.

Ealing are one of two sides waiting to discover if they will qualify for entry into the Premiership

The prospect of a Premiership expansion to 14 teams is on a knife-edge, amid an acute lack of clarity relating to the revised minimum standards criteria which must be satisfied to gain entry.

Ealing and Doncaster are understood to have submitted applications at the start of last month.

Both clubs are proposing to expand their grounds, in stages, although it is unclear if this will satisfy the RFU, who oversee the assessments. Saracens were given dispensation to re-enter the Premiership with a reduced capacity while work was taking place at StoneX Stadium and the Championship contenders hope this may act as a precedent.

Doncaster also believe they could achieve the required 10,000 capacity quickly by installing temporary stands at Castle Park.

Doncaster are the other side and lead the second-tier table, though have played two more

Trailfinders found out shortly before their play-off final against Saracens last season that they were not eligible for promotion, despite having a ground-share agreement in place.

Premiership clubs see expansion as a means of generating short-term income, with pressure being applied for any newcomer to pay £25-£30million for shares in the league. This has led to accusations that a ‘cartel’ is being operated. These are the P shares which Exeter bought from relegated Leeds in 2012 for £5m.

Premiership clubs have continued to make significant collective losses — £40m in 2017 and £50m in 2018, long before Covid hit income. It is understood neither Ealing nor Doncaster intend to buy P shares if promoted. However, this would mean they face a shortfall of around 30 per cent in central funding compared to their established rivals.

In 2016, Doncaster passed the minimum standards assessment but went on to lose the Championship play-off final against Bristol.

Rugby Union’s top division is set to expand to 14 teams ahead of the 2022/23 campaign

It is thought that their geographical location gives Doncaster strategic value within the corridors of power and their president Steve Lloyd has influence as the chairman of the Championship clubs.

Doncaster have been in talks about taking over the running of the official RFU Yorkshire academy in two years and have applied to build an indoor training facility.

Various sources suspect reasons will be found to block Ealing or Doncaster from taking the step up if they do not commit to the purchase of P shares. But if they do somehow jump through all the hoops, the clash between the rivals at Trailfinders Sports Ground on February 26 could turn out to be a decisive occasion, as there are no play-offs in the new Championship format and the season concludes in late March.

Should either club become the 14th Premiership side, they will have at least one season without fear of the drop as there is no relegation in the 2022-23 season.

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