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Coventry Rugby’s Greene King IPA Championship campaign is now scheduled to start on the first weekend of March 2021, the RFU has announced.

This season’s competition will comprise of two conferences of six teams, with the winners of each conference then playing each other over a two-legged final to decide who is the champion club and promoted to the Premiership. There will be no relegation from this truncated Championship.

Teams have been allocated based on the 2019/20 finishing positions, with Newcastle and Yorkshire Carnegie replaced by Saracens and Richmond respectively.

Conference A: Saracens, Cornish Pirates, Ampthill, Jersey Reds, London Scottish, Hartpury University RFC

Conference B: Ealing Trailfinders, COVENTRY RUGBY, Nottingham, Bedford Blues, Doncaster Knights, Richmond

The 2020/21 Greene King IPA Championship will be operating under the elite sport framework, and given the possibility of no crowds being allowed for some of the season it is hoped to live stream as many of the matches as possible, which will also give Championship rugby a wider audience among the sporting public.

As a result of Championship clubs having little or no income for the last nine months the majority do not have the financial ability to meet the costs of Covid testing required under the elite sport framework. The clubs have, therefore, been in regular dialogue with the RFU to consider options and solutions to conclude the season.

The clubs have, ​at least for now, chosen not to return to play under adapted laws and the March start date allows time for clubs to gain clarity from Sport England regarding the Sport Winter Survival Package before starting pre-season training.

All Championship clubs will require an adequate number of weeks of full training plus some pre-season friendlies to make squads “match ready”, subsequent to the long absence of competitive rugby, and we are discussing hosting some games prior to the proposed March start date.

“We’re delighted to finally have a confirmed season start date to aim for,” says Coventry Rugby Director of Rugby Rowland Winter. “We have been training for a number of weeks, but inevitably it is frustrating when you do not have a firm fixture to prepare for. Now we will be able to come together in the new year knowing the teams that we will have to play.

“Our ambition remains to be as competitive as possible, and we look forward to playing in our conference. We will also be looking to get some friendlies into the calendar to help us get up to speed.”

“We know that it has been as frustrating for our supporters and sponsors as it has been for the players, coaches and staff at the club,” added Executive Chairman Jon Sharp.

“The overall situation remains very uncertain and with zero income the financial position remains difficult as we continue to bleed cash despite the use of the government’s furlough scheme.

“The much heralded ‘Winter Sports Survival’ package from the DCMS is only just being rolled out and we will not know until the second half of January 2021 whether we will benefit or not. Other clubs are in the same position but nevertheless are putting a positive face on things by taking a pragmatic view about the season start which can really allow us to plan and get our great game going again.

“I would like to thank everyone for their patience during what has been the most uncertain time that any of us can remember.​”

Now that we have an indication of the Championship structure the team at Butts Park Arena will now be working hard with a number of stakeholders about additional possible fixtures and to finalise the full season. We will provide a further update in early 2021.