WHARFEDALE have come out in opposition to RFU proposals to restructure the league pyramid.

Wharfedale play in National League Two North, which has 16 teams. The South division also has 16 clubs. All of these teams play 30 league games per season.

The RFU proposals, which would affect clubs from National League One down, call for a maximum of 14 teams in a league, which would reduce the number of games a season to 26, which they say would be better for player welfare.

Leagues would also be more regional, which the RFU says would reduce the travel burden on players and supporters.

A statement from Wharfedale read: “Previous attempts to restructure the leagues have been blocked by clubs where the commercial requirements to maximise match day incomes (and related sponsorship) have led clubs to resist any cut in the number of league games.

“Wharfedale has consistently argued that we want to play against the best teams we can find and are prepared to travel anywhere, anytime, to play at the highest standard. We have consistently supported the status quo of national league rugby.

“As a financially sustainable club with good matchday incomes, solid sponsorship/member support and a controlled approach to player wages, we make money on match days so depend on the 15 home games to fund our wider activities. This is in contrast to those less sustainable clubs where player wages exceed incomes, so each match loses money.”

Wharfedale chairman Robert Fort said: “The RFU have been trying to do this for a few years, and their reasoning is that in the modern era, players are not prepared to commit to playing 30 matches in a season. There are fewer people and teams playing rugby than there were 10 to 20 years ago. It’s a societal change, as people are more focused on personal enjoyment.

“The RFU want to make games more local so players can commit to playing more matches. They say that players don’t want to play 30 games a season, but our players don’t think that.”

The RFU’s proposals for National League Two, which are intended to come into force for the 2021/22 season, are:

Option 1: Three leagues of 14 – North, Central and South – a total of 42 teams at Level 4.

Option 2: Four leagues of 14 , a total of 56 teams at Level 4.

Fort said the “RFU wants a lot of local derbies” but the second of their proposed options (dividing the National League Two into four leagues of 14) could result in eight National League Two teams being placed in the same league as six teams from the lower-ranked North Premier.

“It’s a challenge for a club like Wharfedale because we don’t believe in offering rugby at a lower standard,” said Fort. “Reducing the standard of games is commercially damaging and reduces the attraction to sponsors, members, supporters and players.

“We want to retain the status quo, but that is an option.”

Wharfedale head coach Jon Feeley added: “The fixture list being shorter and restricted to local clubs would be less appealing to aspiring younger players. If you decrease the size of the league and narrow the area, it will also intensify the competition for an even smaller number of players.”

Feeley also said the constant focus on school rugby (and not clubs) can result in players dropping out of the game when they are not signed to a contract.

Paul Mackie, chairman of Otley RUFC, who also play in National League Two North, agrees, saying: "Those 15 games at home are an opportunity to run our business. The quality of rugby would be significantly be reduced and bringing together more local clubs would increase competition for players, resulting in an increase in player wages. None of these factors will make a rugby club more sustainable and clubs will find it more difficult to survive."