Premiership: RFU Championship promotion play-off scrapped

Bristol win promotion from the Championship in 2016
Bristol won promotion to the Premiership last season but it came after years of agonising play-off defeats

Automatic promotion to the Premiership will be introduced in 2018 after the Rugby Football Union decided to scrap the Championship play-offs.

The winners of England's second-tier competition will be promoted if they satisfy 'minimum standard criteria' to play in the top-flight.

Promotion this term will again be decided via the four-team play-offs.

Championship clubs also get a funding boost as part of the new agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby.

Bristol won promotion via the play-offs last season, having topped the table in five of the seven campaigns in the Championship following relegation at the end of 2008-09.

But not all clubs reaching the play-offs have been eligible to go up, with Cornish Pirates not having a suitable home ground, while Bedford openly state they do not want to move into the Premiership.

The financial boost for clubs in England's second tier, and only other professional level of rugby, comes after London Welsh went out of business and were expunged from the league in January.

Money troubles are widespread in the competition, with a BBC Sport investigation into the health and future of the league discovering that just one of nine clubs with available accounts at Company House reporting a profit in 2015.

The exact figure in the multi-million pound deal has not been disclosed, but distribution will be based on final league positions "to ensure competition among clubs throughout the entirety of the season".

London Irish, relegated from the Premiership last season, are 15 points clear at the top of the Championship after 15 games.

Fourth-placed Ealing are 27 points adrift of the leaders, having played an extra game.

Mark McCafferty, chief executive at Premiership Rugby, said the play-off system "does not always help" sides prepare for a top-flight campaign.

Bristol lost their opening 10 league games on their return to the Premiership after a seven-year absence.

"It's vital that any club being promoted from the Greene King IPA Championship is as prepared as it can be to compete, given the quality and intensity of Premiership Rugby," McCafferty added.

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