Bill Beaumont supports Cornish Pirates' ambitions
Rugby Football Union chairman Bill Beaumont believes Cornish Pirates should be given a fairer chance of winning promotion to the Aviva Premiership.
Former England captain Beaumont, who was appointed chairman of rugby's governing body in July last year, visited Cornwall on Thursday for an RFU governance meeting at Polson Bridge.
Supporters were given the chance to share their views on whether the RFU should modernise, but Beaumont also took time to speak to the Western Morning News about some wider issues facing Westcountry rugby. He would like to see Exeter Chiefs' success in reaching the Premiership replicated in Cornwall.
However, Pirates have been hindered by minimum standards criteria for Premiership rugby grounds, meaning promotion was never a possibility at Mennaye Field or without a suitable Stadium for Cornwall being built.
He said: "I think any club should have the opportunity of going up.
"It is Premiership Rugby who makes the decisions and we are hamstrung by it. It is one of their regulations and I do think you have to have some criteria regarding the ground.
"[Pirates chairman] Dicky Evans has had plans for a Cornish stadium in Truro, sharing with the football club, and it all sounded very exciting.
"It is tough because you want everyone to have the opportunity to go up but also you have to respect the Premiership rules as well.
"In football, for instance, Blackpool were promoted to the Premier League despite the fact their ground was not even one of the better ones in the Championship.
"Yet they were allowed into the Premier League on the proviso they did certain things the following year. If football can do it, why can't we allow clubs to gain promotion and then have a certain timescale to do something about their grounds?"
Beaumont also suggested changes to the way the community game – clubs playing below Championship level – is funded.
National League sides such as Redruth and the Cornish All Blacks – who play each other at Polson Bridge today – have struggled to meet the financial demands of running their first teams in recent seasons as support from the RFU has diminished. This, in turn, has affected participation in the clubs' other sides below first XV level.
Beaumont said: "If I wanted to win a popularity contest, I would bring the chequebook along and say 'here you are guys, get on with it'. I think that's what our predecessors probably did. A club like Launceston have probably gone from funding of £70,000 a year down to £15,000, just for travel.
"Running a National League team in remote areas is tough. It is a massive demand on the players too.
"It doesn't matter how much they are paid, it does not compensate for all that time they spend every other weekend travelling when they have a young family to take care of or weekend jobs. But at the end of the day, clubs don't have to play in that league.
"How much has gone into players' pockets over the years and how much is actually going into running the other sides?
"What perhaps happened at Launceston [and other clubs in Cornwall] is not unique and it has been replicated all over the country.
"I think that if there is funding, it should be conditional on things like facilities. Have you got floodlights? Can the RFU work with the clubs and get more all-weather pitches in so people can play all year round?
"There are ways, like that, in which we should start looking. One of the biggest problems in club rugby is the drop-off in players between the ages of 18 and 22.
"If we improve the facilities, could they play in a Wednesday night league [if they can't play at the weekend]? The DNA of English rugby is 15 players on a Saturday afternoon, but we might have to look outside the box a little bit to keep people playing rugby."
The Pirates, who have reached the past two Championship finals continue their push for promotion play-off spot at home to Doncaster Knights tomorrow.
Prop Alan Paver is set to make his 300th appearance for the club after serving his four-week club ban for an incident in the Pirates' Championship match with Bristol on New Year's Day.
Pirates coach Harvey Biljon was full of praise for Paver's achievements since his arrival at the club in June 2002.
The front-row forward, who won the EDF Energy National Trophy final at Twickenham in 2007 and the British and Irish Cup in 2010 with Pirates, is currently celebrating a well-deserved testimonial season.
Biljon said: "Phenomenal is the only word you can use to describe Alan. He has been such as great servant to the club on and off the field.
"As a coach, you always turn to your senior players and Alan has been a great help to us. I hope there will be a couple more people there to help celebrate his achievements with him."
Pirates also welcome back wing Matt Evans, who is their top try-scorer in the Championship this season, and this week's on-loan signing from London Welsh, Ashley Smith, is named on the bench.
Cornish Pirates: Davies; Mercer, Riley, Fatialofa, Evans; Hallett, Cattle (capt); Andrew, Semmens, Paver; Barry, Johnson; Marriott, Burgess, McGlone. Replacements: Storer, Elloway, Prescott, Lyons, Maidment, Kessell, Smith.
A special get-together has been organised in honour of prop Alan Paver's 300th game for Cornish Pirates this weekend. The Yacht Inn, Penzance, will host a live band, hog roast and an auction, starting at 6pm tomorrow.