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A new kid on the block next season

In the context of rugby union’s rapidly-approaching end of the Premiership year – even though the final-knockings of the disaster that has been London Irish’s unfortunate season back in the top flight have yet to take place – let us today congratulate Bristol Rugby on its winning of the Championship league (and indeed its return to the Premiership via promotion).

Bristol’s owner Steve Lansdown, who’ll be 66 this coming August, lives in Guernsey and has a holiday home in France. He is currently the majority shareholder of Bristol City football club, the Bristol Flyers pro basketball team and Bristol Rugby, a club with a long and illustrious history.

Because he can. After all, he co-founded Hargreaves Lansdown (the financial services firm) of which he sold a stake of 4.7% for a cool £47.2 million in 2009.

As a result of spraying untold amounts of money upon his stable of Bristol sporting clubs and his quest not only to return Bristol Rugby – which reportedly changed its name yesterday to Bristol Bears – to Premiership status but also realise his ambition of making it one of the powerhouse units of European club rugby, by 2015 [Wikipedia tells me] Mr Lansdown’s net worth had shrunk to £1.8 billion.

Here once more we can see evidence of English rugby union’s propensity – willingly or not – to go down the well-worn route of elite football.

Hitherto, as I’ve posted many times, in most cases successful elite English rugby union club ownership has been a hobby of rich and powerful businessmen with the wherewithal to write-off potentially tens of millions of pounds indulging their sporting allegiances.

As with football’s Premier League – with the occasional exception that proves the rule – the most trophy-bedecked English Premiership rugby clubs are always those whose owners have the biggest pockets.

Again, aping football’s example, there are financial ‘fair play’ rules in place – e.g. the rugby Premiership’s notorious salary cap which historically some clubs have routinely ignored (or ‘got around’) … and then, by threatening the authorities-that-be with costly legal action if they tried to make any ‘breach of regulations’ stick, getting the worst of the excesses quietly buried at the bottom of the garden with everybody concerned, including the Premiership clubs most disadvantages by these ‘wrongdoings’, meekly going along with it.

It’s how the world goes around, of course, so why does anyone get concerned or exercised by the fact?

Let me make a ‘banker’ prediction. At the end of next season Bristol Bears will not only avoid relegation back down to the Championship but threaten the complacency of some traditionally-safe mid-tables teams fondly vying for a Top Six finish and therefore European Rugby Champions rugby the following season.

How and why? What do you think? Simply by continuing to buy in the best players, the best coaches and the best everything … no stone unturned, I promise.

Meanwhile poor old London Irish have sadly predicted a near £3 million loss for next season as they return to the Championship. Their residency at the Madejski Stadium in Reading is now a millstone around their neck. Apparently they’re not only contemplating a move to link up with Brentford FC on a ground-share but also may quite possibly be staring a spectacular collapse of their business in the face.