The support shown for Jersey Reds further highlights why the Championship needs to be backed

The demise of Jersey Reds has shone a light further on the importance of the second tier
©Martin Gray Photos

On the morning of September 27th, with no prior warning, it was announced that Jersey Reds had ceased all trading.

Unfortunately, the process of what happened next has become far too familiar in English club rugby.

On October 5, Jersey Reds announced their liquidation joining Worcester Warriors, Wasps, and London Irish as clubs who have folded in the last 12 months.

Whilst the dismal sight of another English rugby club going under has become depressingly routine, this news carried extra shock given that Jersey had just won the Championship for the first time, missing out on promotion due to widely bemoaned RFU eligibility laws.

Mark Irish, Bristol Bears' forwards coach who has considerable Championship experience himself, outlined the wretched gravity of the situation: “It’s really disappointing. A team that did well last year. It's never nice to see anyone lose their job, just hope all the players and coaches manage to pick something up soon. It's not a nice way for anything to happen.

"Obviously Wasps, Worcester and London Irish situations, that's the fourth team in the top two tiers of English rugby that we've lost."

Bristol playmaker James Williams, who moved to Ashton Gate after impressing for Hartpury in the Championship, echoed Irish’s disappointment.

"It's very sad. That's the overriding emotion. I was gutted for the boys over there, I know a fair few of them and their coaching staff I know they work very hard for what they have from a financial point of view.”

For Williams, and so many other Premiership players, the news hit close to home.

Having started his career at Worcester and then Sale, he moved to Hartpury in 2020 after COVID forced a lowering of the salary cap and prevented the renewal of his contract at the Sharks.

The second tier came to him at a time of need, and with Jersey struggling to create funding following the RFU's cuts, he's aware more than most of the rippling effects Jersey's liquidation will have.

"I think everyone feels the same", he added. "A bit of shock. From what I've heard I honestly think they didn't know it was happening.

"It can just happen overnight. To a club like Jersey, they've been in the Championship since 2012 and they were building something very special there considering they won last year.

"They went in on a morning and it was 'ceased trading' the night before, so everyone was just a bit shocked and a bit sad for the lads that are over there."

Speaking to Irish, Williams and Harlequins centre Lennox Anyanwu, it is clear why Premiership staff feel sympathy for Jersey, despite the club never having breached the top division.

The Championship's importance to the growth and quality of the top division cannot be understated. Anyanwu, tipped for a breakthrough season, has been the beneficiary of dual registration contracts after loan spells with local second-tier sides London Scottish and Richmond.

"The Champ’s been amazing for me", said Anyanwu. "To churn out games, to go through seasons all that experience playing Friday to Saturday. For boys who are 20-24, you can't shadow box your whole time, you have to be in the ring. The Champs massive for that."

Whilst Anyanwu plies his trade in the backline, Irish sees the Championship as particularly important for fledgling forwards.

"It's definitely well coached. If you think about the players that have come out of the Championship, front rows, there's been a good number that have had an opportunity to play week inm week out.

"If you think back, Jake Woolmore came from the Championship, Tommy Francis who plays for Wales, Harry Williams went to Exeter, Simon Kerrod from Harlequins came from Jersey. There's a good number of guys who have come from that", he said.

"Especially forwards, it's a good breeding ground, really competitive. A lot of the teams are quite forward-orientated within that competition, so it gives younger players exposure to set pieces, scrums, mauls. The things that your game is underpinned with in the Premiership as a tight five forward."

Dual-registration is undoubtedly a cornerstone for the Premiership's talent production, but for the likes of Williams who has not had that upbringing, the Championship is to be appreciated in its own right.

"I don't know how many boys have come through the Championship whether that's on loan or through that system and ended up getting to the Premiership.

"From a personal standpoint, I love the Championship, I love what it's about. I love the boys don't get paid that much but they love it for what it is. That they enjoy those away days. To places like Jersey or going up to Caldy on a Friday night or a Sunday.

"I love it and I can't speak highly enough of the Championship."

What made the Jersey news so flattening was that after all the tribulations of Worcester, Wasps and London Irish last season, the tide seemed to be beginning to turn.

The new format of the Premiership Rugby Cup has been seen as an opportunity to get lower league teams exposed to Premiership Rugby in a win/win scenario.

The top-flight teams keep their chances to blood fresh talents while Championship clubs get some much-needed exposure to higher-quality rugby and TV audiences.

Regardless of positive or negative intent, the 2023/24 edition of the tournament finally heeded this desire, and prior to Jersey's folding, appeared to be a resounding success epitomised by the Reds themselves beating Bath 34-10 while Coventry also impressed with wins against Saracens and Sale.

Fans of the English domestic game mustn't let the timing of Jersey's closure distract them from the albeit scarce sources of optimism at these times. The players certainly aren't.

"The Premiership and Championship clubs coming together these last couple months, I think it's brilliant," said Williams.

"It's exactly what the Championship needs. Coventry beating Saracens was huge, and Jersey beating Bath before they went under. Ealing beat us! It's competitive, it's just great for people to see Championship clubs.

"Hopefully it isn't too little, too late and continues into next year. If Premiership and Championship clubs can keep developing those relationships, I think it's only going to be a good thing whether players are going up or down".

Its importance for the bigger picture is also recognised by Anyanwu.

"I think it's very good because it reminds English rugby that the Champ teams can be as good as some Prem teams at times.

"It enables them to have more games, to have that exposure. I know there are some young guys at Champ teams that want to crack on and have a go at the Prem. To have that exposure to Premiership sides, to play against them, to feel the intensity is really really good.

"All it can do is raise the overall standard of rugby in England which is what's needed."