The Rugby Football Union has been warned that its latest round of financial cuts risks triggering “a complete car crash” that will cause lasting damage to the community game.
As part of a bid to reduce the number of roles across the organisation by 141, and in addition to downsizing the England Sevens programme, it is understood that the governing body’s community department is to shrink by 104.
All rugby development officer (RDO) and community rugby coach (CRC) positions will go, with 81 new roles becoming available as 185 are removed. Among the new jobs will be a geographically spread network of coach and club developers.
However, there is a fear that northern counties may not be adequately served by such a system. Gareth Dyer is head of rugby operations at Preston Grasshoppers RFC, whose men’s first-team were relegated from National 2 North, English rugby union’s fourth tier, last season.
An example of a thriving community club, Grasshoppers boasted 200 active men’s senior players with 40 women’s players as well as around 400 boys and girls across their mini and junior section over the 2019-20 season. Dyer is worried that, without a network of RDOs and CRCs, participation could plummet.
“A lot of those community rugby coaches and development officers looked after clubs like ours all the way down to the very bottom of the pyramid,” he said.
“They were up-skilling club coaches, organising and running courses to help them improve in specific and technical areas. Then you had the wider integration aspect.
“They were talking to colleges and schools, all manner of different areas where young people could potentially play the game, and they would affiliate those schools with local clubs.
“There was a real togetherness, a sense that we could help each other. They were saying: ‘We are the RFU, we are here to drive participation. You’re where we want these youngsters to go on a regular basis.’
“We worked really well on that. My big concern now is that we were taking in a lot of new starters. What we’re now getting is a huge flood of talent being pulled away.”
Dyer also has misgivings about how the RFU will organise its geographical distribution of new coach developers and club developers.
Previously, 12 RDOs and CRCs were allocated to the north-west region. He believes that Lancashire could end up being served by a single RFU employee.
Given many CRCs earned a salary of £20,000, some £5,000 less than members of England men’s team have picked up for a week of training and a Test match, Dyer wonders whether their value was fully appreciated.
“It’s just going to be a complete car crash for northern club rugby, in particular,” he added. “I don’t envy Bill Sweeney or anybody trying to navigate this process.
“I know they are inheriting a lot of issues from the former administration, but these community coaches get 20 grand a year.
“As it stands, that is less than one appearance fee for an England player in a Test match.”