Topsy Ojo: London Irish legend wants investment in stronger Championship

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
London Irish
London Irish were promoted back to the Premiership with a win at Richmond

English rugby needs structural change to make promotion and relegation work, says London Irish great Topsy Ojo.

Irish sealed a return to the Premiership at the weekend, meaning for the third season in a row the relegated side has instantly bounced back.

"There is not enough investment in the Championship to make promotion viable," Ojo said.

"It is 13 teams really [who can play in the Premiership], so how do we bridge that gap?"

The former England winger added on the Rugby Union Weekly podcast: "I would love to see a better standard of Championship, that actually makes the flow of promotion and relegation a bit more open."

While supporting the idea of promotion and relegation, Ojo has called for a short period of ring-fencing in order to give ambitious teams time to prepare for a Premiership push.

"Cornish Pirates have this stadium coming which is going to be brilliant for rugby in their region. Nottingham have huge plans, Ealing the same. But they are not ready right now," explained Ojo, who has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

"So if there was a way that you could potentially ring-fence for two to three years with guaranteed investment, that would appeal to these clubs to say 'right, if you are serious about being a Premiership team, here are some extra finances'.

"Build your infrastructure, build your playing squad, and then we open the gates and get a real viable flow, with five or six teams fighting for promotion and relegation year in and year out.

"It would make for a brilliant competition all round."

'Irish can't be a yo-yo club'

Ojo, who has played a record 300 times for his boyhood club, says next season is crucial for the Exiles as they try to re-establish themselves as one of the top teams in English rugby.

Irish have already confirmed the signings of internationals such as Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien and Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps, and are also believed to be close to announcing deals for All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo and Wallaby lock Adam Coleman.

The club, which currently plays at the Madejski Stadium, home of Reading FC, will also move to a new ground in west London - Brentford Football Club's new stadium which is under construction - in time for the 2020/21 season.

"Next year is so big for this club," Ojo added.

"If we can move to Brentford as a Premiership team, with the stars we have signed and with a growing academy, you've got the makings of something really fruitful for the future.

"We don't want to be a yo-yo team. You get caught in that and can't get out. We have bounced up once or twice now, and we can't do it again.

"It is going to be so competitive next season with everyone scrapping, and we have to be the same."

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