RELEGATION and promotion between Eastern Counties 2 and the Suffolk Merit League could be introduced by the start of next season.

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A new Eastern Counties League structure has been drawn-up by a focus group, led by Eastern Counties Rugby Union (ECRU) president Harry Moore, with the intention of increasing player participation.

Eastern Counties clubs have until today to vote for or against the new structure, which will retain Eastern Counties 1 and TWO Eastern Counties 2 divisions, split into South and West and North and East regions, as opposed to the current one.

The revamped structure has been proposed to try and address the subject of falling participation which has been attributed to such issues as changing working patterns; the desire to compete in a league, rather than social atmosphere; the rising cost of travelling and a need for clubs to play a suitable standard.

Discussed at the Eastern Counties’ Management meeting at Ipswich YM on Monday, the proposals were met with some concern.

YM director of rugby Andrew Moore said he feared for the future of smaller clubs under the new proposals.

“A lot of the smaller clubs play social rugby where they turn up on a Saturday and don’t train on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The new promotion and relegation system will see how many points teams accrue determine whether they go down or stay up and that will put pressure on the players.

“A lot of guys just want to enjoy themselves.

“When there was no league structure, there was mass participation, although I am not saying the introduction of the league format is the only reason for the drop in numbers.

“But to start having to tell players they have to be sportsmen or superstars, they don’t. You can be any shape or size.”

The spectre of promotion from the Suffolk Merit League also caused concern.

The fear is that stronger clubs that field second or third teams – that under current rules, would not be allowed promotion from Eastern Counties to the London Leagues – would be marooned and stop the progress of smaller one-side teams that did want to progress.

Harry Moore responded: “The initial pressure came from clubs unable to provide rugby for their second XV teams, who therefore had problems with participation.

“They would argue that they require a stronger league to play in to keep their clubs going.

“Diss gained promotion but could not sustain it and a lot of blame was put on the fact that their second XV were losing players as they did not have a sensible fixture list.”

Chairman of ECRU Club Player Development Committee Ross Cowie added: “This will stop the 50-0 scorelines. Before the leagues began you would get Bury II playing Stowmarket or Ipswich II taking on Felixstowe and it was fair game.”

Votes must be emailed to rogerpierson@btinternet.com by the end of today.

What do you think? email starsport@archant.co.uk

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