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Doncaster Knights to appeal as Premiership promotion hopes ended

Doncaster Knights has announced it will appeal a decision that means it, and fellow English Championship rugby union club Ealing Trailfinders, will not be eligible for promotion to the Premiership due to their stadium standards.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) have stated the two clubs, currently first and third in the Championship table, have not met the minimum standards criteria for promotion to the top tier of the domestic game.

The COVID-19 recovery measures agreed by the RFU Council in June last year allowed for the Premiership to be expanded to 14 clubs at the end of the 2021-22 season, enabling the winner of the Championship to be promoted subject to meeting the required minimum standards criteria.

These criteria are in place to ensure Premiership clubs and promoted teams have suitable facilities to protect player safety and welfare and to provide a good quality, safe environment for spectators. Each club and its nominated ground undergo an annual independent audit to assess compliance with the minimum standards criteria.

This year two Championship clubs – the Knights and Trailfinders – nominated their home grounds to be eligible for promotion and to be independently audited under the minimum standards criteria.

One of the minimum standards criteria is that a stadium must hold a minimum of 10,001 fans. The RFU and PRL said this is to ensure the ground falls under the remit of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) and the Green Guide, as well as to be of a standard suitable for the top league of one of the nation’s major sports.

Ealing Trailfinders’ Sports Ground does not currently have a licensed capacity, but the stadium holds approximately 5,000 with 2,115 seats. Doncaster Knights’ Castle Park (pictured) currently has a capacity of around 5,183 with 1,926 seats.

As a result, the independent audit found that neither club had successfully met the minimum standards criteria based on capacity, as well as other factors. The RFU and PRL said both clubs have suggested they could seek to expand their facilities, but added that no formal planning permissions are in place for this to happen. Neither of the clubs proposed ground-share arrangements in their applications.

Bill Sweeney, CEO of the RFU, said yesterday (Tuesday): “The RFU and PRL would welcome a Championship club being promoted to create a 14-team Gallagher Premiership league.

“In the past, clubs with home grounds which would not meet the minimum standards criteria have nominated other grounds, under a ground-share agreement to provide a bridge between a club developing its own facilities to provide safe, compliant participation in the Premiership.

“The RFU and PRL would like to support and encourage all Championship clubs to continue to develop their proposals for the expansion and development of their grounds including the submission of formal planning applications.”

Both clubs are entitled to appeal the decision through an independent arbitration process, an option the Knights today said they will take up. The Trailfinders said the club is “discussing our next steps” and will make a statement in due course.

Doncaster has criticised the verdict, stating it is “disappointed, dismayed and disheartened” by the decision. The club said in a statement: “Within the audit process, the only failure by the club is to, currently, not be able to demonstrate a capacity crowd of 10,001 at the club’s ground, Castle Park.

“All other aspects of the audit, it seems are in order and Castle Park has, on a number of occasions, demonstrated its proficiency in hosting significant events via both Women’s and Under 20’s international matches.

“At this stage, it can only be stated that the DRFC Board have every confidence that the required capacity could be delivered for season 2022-23 with a stand-by ground now being available should unexpected delays occur.”

Doncaster added: “Excitement in the camps and amongst rugby supporters in general is high but that has now been dashed at a stroke via yesterday’s untimely RFU statement, producing a resurgence of subsequent outpourings of angry feelings towards the governing body at a time when harmony should prevail.

“Sensibility and fairness dictate that a delay to a decision being made could have been better for all concerned. Now, the teams play the final matches of the season in an atmosphere of despondence, albeit an administrative box has been ticked.”

Image: Doncaster Knights