At this time every year, for purposes of weight control and deferred gratification, I embark on a six-week period of alcoholic abstinence lasting until Whitsun and the traditional family holiday in the Lake District.

My personal xerophagy* always, but always, comes to an end that Sunday in a pub called the Black Bull in Coniston where they serve the finest premium lagers known to mankind. My hand is already trembling at the very thought of it.

Imagine, if you will, my consternation if, halfway down my well-deserved first measure of Warsteiner, some over-zealous potboy whips it from under my nose and pours that which I hold so dear down the nearest sink. How cheated could one be?

The prospect isn't too dissimilar to the fate suffered by followers of National One rugby this season.

The head of their pint has flopped with Harlequins' domination of the division while they have lost the bottom third following the Rugby Football Union's decision to restructure mid-term.

What is especially sad about that is the fact that we will never know whether Pertemps Bees' Herculean efforts at avoiding relegation would have paid off.

Watching them dig deeper than ever before in winning games with Sedgley Park and Exeter was one of the spectacles of the campaign. Unfortunately, though, we will never know the punchline.

But what's even sadder is that, at the top of the table at least, we are destined for another no-contest next season.

Harlequins will go, only to be replaced by Leeds - an even more dogged and resolute club who will already be well on their way to winning the title at a canter.

Their chief backer - chairman Paul Caddick - has declared his intention to continue supporting the team and he must be applauded for doing so.

In comments reported by The Yorkshire Post last week, Caddick said: "Sometimes you have to lose something before you realise what you've got . . . I'll battle on: that's what Yorkshiremen do."

But of course the major factor behind his side's likely return is the £1.5 million parachute payment all relegated sides receive. Set that against the £140,000 grant the other 15 National One outfits are given and they might as well award the trophy now.

Leeds will be full-time, should retain all but three or four players - even Justin Marshall is still under contract - and are probably better prepared on the pitch for a First Division season than Harlequins' were. So what can be done? In essence, parachute payments treat the symptom and not the cause. The fact is that professional rugby outside the top flight is virtually unsustainable without a sugar daddy.

In sending a full-time team into that environment, the Rugby Football Union has to financially compensate them in a big way, when what they really should be doing is narrowing the gap between the top two divisions. Giving one club nearly ten times more money than all the others ruins the competition from the outset.

What they should do is reward teams for where they finish at the end of the season and not bankroll them regardless of performance at its' start, as they do in football's Premiership.

With graded payments based on league positions running right the way through National League rugby, the steps between stanzas should be terraced rather than Alpine.

That would mean the Premiership winners getting the most and then decreasing down in regular increments to National Three North and South. Most importantly, the bottom-placed Premiership team and the club coming up from National One would be separated by tens rather than hundreds of thousands.

The current structure negates any form of meaningful competition at level two and creates a situation where the division is virtually decided before a ball is kicked.

* A big 'Thumbs Down' to Shane Drahm who shoved Ryan Lamb as they walked to the sin bin in Saturday's Gloucester-Worcester derby. It wasn't clear what had started the trouble, but such teenage petulance has no place in organised sport and is certainly beneath a player of Drahm's stature.

* Traditionally, among the primitive Christians, the living on a diet of dry food in Lent and on other fasts.