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Interview with the Chairman

Posted: July 9, 2021
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Paul Durkin ‘Voice’ Interview

Cornish Pirates’ Chairman Paul Durkin has recently spoken to Gareth Davies, Chief Sports Writer of the Voice Media Group, publishers of the Penzance Voice newspaper, about the Rugby Football Union’s covid recovery plan.

(This was used on page 47 of the Penzance Voice and in other titles too)

The Cornish Pirates have welcomed plans for promotion and relegation between the Premiership and Championship to return for season 2023-24.

After the Rugby Football Union (RFU) unveiled their Covid-19 recovery plans last week, Pirates’ Chairman Paul Durkin told the Voice that the Penzance based outfit were ‘adamant’ that movement between England’s top two domestic leagues should remain in place.

The RFU plans have provoked a mixed response with some quarters arguing that the time frames and criteria that will need to be met are wholly unrealistic with one promotion spot up for grabs next season.

However, Durkin says that the nuts and bolts of the RFU statement didn’t stir any shock reactions in the corridors of power at the Mennaye Field, but nevertheless, the Pirates were ‘comfortable’ with a play-off system being reintroduced in three seasons time.

He said:

There hasn’t been an awful lot of surprise from the club towards the plans because we have been wondering for some while how things would pan out with promotion and relegation. We were absolutely adamant that there should be some form of promotion and relegation and if there had been complete ring-fencing, with the Premiership becoming a franchise, then we would have been up in arms about it, as would of all the Championships clubs – everyone below the Premiership in fact.

Is what we have seen a compromise? Well, I have always advocated that because of the financial ring-fencing that there still is, because of the gap in funding which is unbelievable. The club relegated from the Premiership has always been able to receive a parachute payment and payment from its Premiership share, meaning there was never a level playing field for a Championship club to play against a relegated Premiership side.

They had far more resources, that would always be the case, and once the play-offs had been stopped, something we were against, it was always inevitable that the relegated club would be promoted the next season. It was like the Premiership club had been sent into the naughty boy’s corner for a season.

My own view and that of the club was that it has always been better for the bottom Premiership club to play the top club in the Championship over a play-off and decide who was promoted and relegated because you would have a much better chance of winning, opposed to competing with their resources throughout the season.

The big question that Cornish rugby supporters will be asking next is just how much it will cost and what needs to be done for the Pirates to finally reach the promised land of Premiership Rugby. Durkin was coy about talking figures because at this moment in time, it would be hard to quantify exactly what is needed and how much cost will be involved.

Of course Pirates fans know that the Stadium for Cornwall project is key to their future growth and sustainability going forward, with other minimum standards, which the RFU have labelled as ‘revised’ are yet to be unveiled. It is understood, however, that these will comprise of clubs being able to demonstrate financial longevity and a commitment to developing home grown talent.

Durkin added:

Another thing that has been thrown into the mix is the minimum standards. We know all about those in terms of seating and grounds, but there are also some more stringent parts to it that clubs could get in place. From our perspective, we want to build our own stadium, but we need to know overall how much it is going to cost to get into the Premiership.

In another interview for the back page of the newspaper:

Cornish Pirates chairman Paul Durkin says the club will not run the risk of financial ruin to realise their dreams of bringing Premiership rugby to Cornwall.

In an exclusive interview with the Voice, Mennaye Field chief Durkin also revealed that the club were, in the main, happy with the Rugby Football Union’s covid-19 recovery plan which was unveiled last week.

Main points for consideration from the Pirates’ point of view are that the Premiership will be expanded to 14 clubs at the end of next term, with one Championship club, subject to meeting strict criteria, elevated to dine at the top table of English rugby.

The following season, 2022-23, there will be no promotion or relegation from the Premiership, but 12 months later, movement between the Premiership and Championship will be decided via a play-off with the winner, if they come from the second tier and meet minimum standards, then duly promoted.

We are not going to get into financial problems by trying to throw things at (winning promotion) only to not survive,” Durkin began. “We will play to win next season, but we are very much conscious that if we play and win, we might not be able to sustain a place in the Premiership for another couple of years.

That is the feeling of the club overall and that doesn’t mean that we are not ambitious because be very much are, but we will do things in an organised manner.

We need to build a squad and we have been pretty good at maintaining a core of players. Our coaching staff led by Gav (Cattle) and Pav’s (Alan Paver) seem to be able to get the best out of the players and we now have the people in place to start building.

Who knows if we will get there before 2024, but who would have thought that we would have beaten Saracens in the first game of the season. That shows that anything is possible, and I am confident that we have a plan to get to the Premiership. Whether than plan is completely executed the way we want to do it will depend on lots of things, but we will be doing our best to make things happen, but we just know what will happen in the future.

Although the plans do give some form of clarity for how promotion and relegation will work in the short-term, Durkin says that the next few seasons for professional rugby is still a journey into the unknown.

He also revealed that the rugby’s power brokers in this country could be doing more, with Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) key to these new plans after backing the RFU into a corner over the release of England qualified players.

The RFU could be doing a hell of a lot more but I believe what has happened is that this whole plan hasn’t been solely driven by the RFU. There has been a massive push from PRL because they have the RFU over a barrel in terms of England players. This means that PRL are much more likely to listen more, and this announcement has certainly been done in junction with PRL. It might not be everything PRL wanted, but it has gone quite a bit of the way down the line to what they need.

There is also speculation that PRL want to go to 16 clubs with two conferences of eight. That would mean that there would be a real carrot for the full-time professional teams in the Championship to go for it, although that probably wouldn’t be announced until after the 2024 season. But if you think about it, the fully professional clubs currently like Ealing, us, Doncaster, Coventry, Jersey, three of those five could find themselves up with the existing 13 Premiership clubs.

But the other great unknown is do we actually know if the Premiership clubs will survive financially because some of them are in difficulty. This is why you can never tell what is going happen because if a couple of Premiership clubs collapse financially, then what are PRL going to do because they would have to bring the number of clubs up financially.

All we can do is play the cards we are dealt and at the moment, that looks like one team going up to the Premiership next year, if they meet the criteria, and there will play-offs in two years , so we will just see how it goes.

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