With the Heineken Cup, Pro12 and now Aviva Premiership final all done and dusted, rugby fans may be forgiven for thinking that the domestic season is over. But no, the real event is yet to come. Matthew Gompels gives five reasons why the Championship is the league to watch.
1. Unpredictable Outcomes: Whilst each Premiership season inevitably throws up a few surprise results, few punters can really say that this year’s top four of Saracens, Leicester, Quins and Northampton was much of a surprise and Welsh’s relegation is equally unlikely to have raised many eyebrows. By contrast, the Championship features defences leakier than a Union election, and the term ‘formbook’ is virtually non-existent.
2. Great Grounds: London Irish play at the Madejski Stadium, quite possibly the worst rugby venue in the world. Week in, week out, its 18,000 empty seats act as an effective drain on one of the country’s most passionate fan bases. The Championship knows how to do grounds right: London Welsh’s spiritual home Old Deer Park is, quite literally, a park. Many a recently demoted Premiership side has burst out of the changing room and stormed up the tunnel, only to find upon exiting that the pitch is a good 400m away and the only adoring fans are an old bloke having a fag and a woman trying to keep up with her dog’s erratic shitting.
3. Exciting Players: 29% of the current England squad has played in the Championship, and frankly it’s gone downhill for them all from there on in. Playing for England makes players uptight and boring. Since joining Saracens from Bristol for example, promising young England star Mako Vunipola has begun seek unattainable goals, such as ‘agility’ and ‘fitness’. The Championship let Mako do what he does best: demolish people, and take long rests in between.
4. Foreign Fixtures: Fine, the Premiership offers its players the chance to experience the highs and the lows (mainly the lows) of European rugby, but it doesn’t hold a monopoly on exotic travel! This season’s Championship offers fans the opportunity to set sail firmly towards the continent, with an away trip on the beautiful island of…Jersey. With all of the weather perks and a much greater chance of success, there really is nothing to complain about.
5. Fickle Fanbases: Somewhat endemic in premiership rugby, where extensive TV coverage makes it easy to be an armchair fan. Supporting a Championship side however, is a serious commitment. Short of decidedly amateur radio commentary, typically broadcast from the top of a cowshed (press boxes haven’t yet reached Cornwall apparently) there really is no other option than to get off your arse and go to games. Sure, the average Mosley match may attract a gate of only 978…but they bloody love the Championship and quite frankly, it loves them too.