Rugby Union

American-style draft system features in radical blueprint for rugby

American-style draft system to promote the best young talent features in radical blueprint for future of Premiership rugby

  • Premiership academies would be replaced by RFU regional hubs 
  • The best young players would then be drip-fed into the Premiership 
  • Propsal part of a plan to ring-fence the Premiership and boost second tier

An American-style draft system has been proposed as part of a major overhaul to the structure of English rugby.

The 76-page blueprint has been presented to the RFU and club chiefs as part of a plan to ring-fence the Premiership and boost the second tier.

Former Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths is behind the project and he told Sportsmail that the sport can be ‘streamlined’ by replacing Premiership academies with RFU regional hubs.

RFU regional hubs would be set up around the country in a bid to find the next Maro Itoje

The Championship would be remodelled into North and South conferences, with clubs finding talent from the regional hubs.

The best young players would then be drip-fed into the Premiership through an annual draft, which has been touted as a ‘showpiece’ TV event.

‘In the current system, you could have a highly successful academy that might produce two world-class loose forwards in the same year,’ said Griffiths.

‘That’s quite an ineffective position. The main failure is that the most talented young players in England are not getting enough game time. They spend far too much time holding tackle bags.

Former Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths (above) is behind the radical project

‘The draft enables a PRL club to get exactly what they want. If they need a tighthead and a right wing, that’s what they’ll get.

‘We’re not just taking American sport and dumping it here. We’re trying to take the best elements of American sport and apply it to a traditional English rugby framework. The Dallas Cowboys don’t have an academy. Taking the gardening analogy, they go and pick the ripest fruit when the fruit’s ready, and put it straight into their team.

‘We’d look at doing the draft in December, before the recruitment window opens. It would be a massively exciting event with broadcast appeal.’

Griffiths claims the proposals would help reduce unsustainable wage inflation. Championship clubs would work within a £600,000 wage structure, excluding academy players.

The Premiership would be ring-fenced for four years, before a review, and Griffiths believes the plans could come in as soon as the 2021-22 season.

‘Many people have said 2021-22 is unrealistic but the current challenge is to build a consensus in the interests of English rugby,’ he said. ‘I’m not under any illusion that it’s a fairly radical change but there are benefits for everybody.

‘The draft would become an egalitarian dynamic in the Premiership. The top four has been pretty much sewn up between a handful of clubs for a number of years. Clearly the No 1 pick goes to the team that finishes last in the league but you can trade draft picks like an asset.

‘All the players would have one year in the academy system after school. You can’t have Premiership clubs offering hundreds of thousands of pounds to Maro Itoje when he’s still in school.

‘All of these draft players, for their first three-year contract in the Premiership, would be on a banded salary to control wage inflation at the lower end of the game.’

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