It doesn’t take a PhD in Botany to know when spring is on the way.
Even a colour-blind, natural scientific pygmy can identify the carpet of radiant crocuses in Bournville park as a sure sign the seasons are on the move.
However, aforementioned colour blindness and botanical shortcomings have conditioned yours truly to look for other spring-related cues. Conjecture and controversy about the structure of the rugby pyramid are as accurate a guide as any daffodil bulb or blossom bud.
And so it is once again this year. The National Leagues are up in arms about proposed changes to the league structure from level three downwards. Up in arms firstly about the proposals themselves and secondly that their objections appear to count for nothing.
The rejig, which if it goes through in time for the 2015-16 season, will see National One reduced from 16 teams to 14 – with two relegation places instead of three. Level four, currently National Two North and South, will be regionalised into four, 12 team divisions. An increase from 36 clubs to 48.
And promotion to National One will become more difficult because winning your respective league won’t be enough, divisional champions will then have to play-off to determine the two clubs elevated to level three. Level five is also up for a spot of TLC with the four existing leagues, based upon regional lines, set to be expanded to eight divisions of 12.
If one could characterise the over-riding philosophy behind the proposals in a single metaphor, it is that the waves of regionalisation now lap further up rugby’s beach.
The benefits are obvious. A reduction in travel expenses and the sort of nine-hour, 500-mile round trip that takes Luctonians to Darlington Mowden Park. To some it seems nonsense that clubs like Stourbridge and Birmingham & Solihull should require overnight stays for squads of part-time players. Particularly when funding is so sparse. There is also the notion that greater regionalisation will create more local derbies. Indeed if level four were being drawn along today’s lines Old Halesonians, Sutton Coldfield, Bees, Stourbridge, Dudley Kingswinford, Broadstreet, Bromsgrove and Nuneaton would make up 75 per cent of the Midlands division. Eight clubs in a 30-mile radius. However, virtually all of the affected clubs have kicked up a stink, indeed some are even talking about taking legal action.
Their main objection is the dilution of playing standards. It seems most of the 48 affected clubs are content to travel more than 200 miles for a match if it means they are playing rivals of a similar standing, near the top of the community game. It is difficult not to agree with that argument because the current level four league tables suggest the disparity between the top and the bottom is greater than in any other division. Five of the six relegation play-offs were effectively decided by the end of February. But if those objections are rational, the strength of them is informed by the anger of having made this point loud and clear over a two day conference in Burton six months ago, only to find they have been ignored.