11:55am Thursday 12th June 2014
The Rugby Football Union's controversial proposals to reduce the number of league games that clubs play has been shelved - for a season.
The recommendations from the Adult Competition Review, which have been approved by the RFU Council, were due to be implemented the season after next.
But instead of taking place in 2015-16, they will now not be in force until the 2016-17 campaign.
The changes, which caused widespread criticism when they were recently discussed by the clubs at Wetherby, will be enforced from level four (i.e. National League Two North) downwards.
This means that instead of Otley having 30 league matches (as they had in 2013-14), assuming they are in the same division, they would only have 28 in 2016-17.
It is this loss of home gate revenue that has angered many clubs down the pecking order, which they feel will not be compensated by the addition (although there will be no cup at Otley's level) of a knockout competition.
The RFU, however, reckon that a reduction in travelling costs and concerns over player welfare are more important.
RFU chairman Bill Beaumont says: "The decision by the council to accept the recommendations of the Adult Competition Review is a major step forward in determining the future of our great game - to deliver accessible and healthy competition for generations to come.
"It is vital that the changes work from the bottom up as well as from the top down, and that principle has been fully endorsed by Council.
"The review brought together extensive research and diverse views into a set of recommendations that we believe best serve the changing needs of our game.
"The RFU Council has endorsed that belief and provided a mandate for work to proceed to implement the changes."
The revamp is based on a 35-week season between September and April, but the maximum number of matches played by clubs at level three and below should not exceed 30.
Clubs will have one season's notice of the changes, and level four (currently Otley) will be in 15-team league divisions (North, Central South East and Central South West) with no cup competitions in 2016-17, level five (Cleckheaton) will have eight leagues of 12 with a compulsory national cup, level six (Bradford & Bingley and Ilkley) will have 16 leagues of 12 teams with an optional national cup, while level seven and below (Aireborough, Old Grovians and Old Otliensians) will continue to be managed locally.
However, just who was questioned for the review was a matter for great debate at Wetherby.
Cleckheaton president Alan Bentley said: "I was at that meeting, which involved clubs from Wharfedale's level (level three) to Wibsey's (level ten), and not one club could name an official or a player who had been contacted by the RFU about these changes.
"Another thing is that will the three cup games that we are due be played with the same intensity as league matches or will clubs see it as an opportunity to play a development team and therefore devalue the cup competition (and presumably affect the gates)."
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