Earlier this month an e-mail was circulated from Premier Rugby offices to its constituent clubs that caused more than a little consternation in certain parts of the Championship.
Predictably it concerned the vexatious issue of dual registration, a subject to turn even the mildest of men into deranged sociopath.
Typically the practice affords young English qualified players, who have been selected for academies, the opportunity to play for either the Premiership club to which the academy is attached, or an allotted Championship team.
Obviously there are other variables – such as the hugely significant fact second tier outfits Bristol and Exeter have their own RFU funded academies and National League sides can also partake – but the basic outline is there.
The initiative was launched a couple of seasons ago amid fears that the gulf between Guinness A league matches and the white heat of the Premiership was too large for talented youngsters to gain enough exposure to competitive rugby.
Instead they were left to take their supplements, lift their weights and develop into what British Lion and England international Simon Shaw derided as gym monkeys, fine physical specimens devoid of any rugby smarts.
And overall the principle has proved pretty successful. Not only has the Championship seen some lavishly gifted tyros like Leicester’s Billy Twelvetrees, Gloucester’s Henry Trinder and Harlequins’ George Lowe, many of them have profited from their exposure to men’s rugby and graduated into their parent clubs’ first teams.
Indeed rising stars like Matt Mullan and Scotland’s Alex Grove have already made the step to the highest level. Would they have done so without their various postings around level two? Probably but maybe not as quickly.
So what’s the problem? Basically there are those in the Championship who feel disadvantaged by others’ enthusiastic mining of what is undeniably a rich vein of talent.
Nottingham are often cited as the most successful in this regard – though their director of rugby Glenn Delaney maintains they have averaged just 3.6 dual registered players per game this season.
Moseley have also done reasonably well in previous years with Dan Norton, Jack Adams and Tristan Roberts vital components of the team that won the National Trophy at Twickenham last April.
What was initially a flow of regular talent to Billesley Common has, however, slowed to a trickle and only Roberts, Rupert Harden and Jonny May can be considered anything like Red and Black regulars.
Nevertheless, there are those who feel they are not being given access to the same pool of talent. Look at poor old Cornish Pirates for instance, isolated in their Camborne outpost and forced to be self-sufficient.
Those who defend the current system argue that Pirates have as much right as any other club to get their hands on a starlet or three.
In practicality, though, where most dual registered players are at the beck and call of the Premiership sides first and foremost and attend Championship training sessions as and when they can, the reality is much different. It’s considerably easier to nip up the M1 from Oadby or the M5 from Kingsholm than it is to reach Cornwall, a minimum seven hour round trip from any top flight club.
As a side issue there may be confusion over which players – like England cap Sam Vesty – are loaned and which are dual registered. The situation can be clouded when 27-year-old New Zealand-born hookers like Joe Duffey are considered to be part of an England academy.
For the record Duffey is English qualified through his Cornish father but has played for both Leicester and Nottingham this season and there has been some disquiet surrounding his exact status.
Sufficient rumbling, in fact, for the RFU to look into the whole system with a view to limiting the number of DR players that can appear in any one team.
Which brings us back to the e-mail.
A high ranking RFU official told me Premier Rugby had taken matters into their own hands when Corin Palmer, the organisation’s Development and Academy Manager, confirmed a PRL board decision thus: “For the remainder of this Season, on a voluntary basis, all PRL Clubs will limit the dual-registered EAP Players who play for a Championship Club in the play-offs to a maximum of 5 with a maximum age of 25 years old.”
Now even though that ceiling is rarely reached, that set some pulses racing, I can tell you.
Most irritating to some was the implicit assumption by PRL they have the right to dictate the make up of Championship squads at such an important time of the year.
Especially since in days of yore guys like Trinder, Roberts or Mullan would have belonged to Nottingham, Moseley or Coventry in their own right, instead of having already been hoovered from such set-ups by the lure of an academy contract worth a princely £10,000 a year.
And there is also the suspicion that whenever the Premiership do anything about the troublesome little brother it’s to keep it in place.
Indeed one Championship director suggested to me the limit on dual registered players was merely an attempt to make sure their 13th man – Bristol – is not too inconvenienced in their attempts to secure promotion.
Like I said – dual registration is a topic where conspiracy theories abound and one where self service and not the development of the next generation appears to be the primary motivation.