It is quite some admission. In the age of press management and spin of which Shane Warne would be proud, for one of the highest ranking officers of the Rugby Football Union to make such a concession is little short of remarkable.
But when it comes to discussing the Championship for Martyn Thomas, chairman of the RFU management board, the Steve Borthwick route – swearing black is white and that everything is rosy in the Red Rose garden – is not an option.
Thomas’ sternest critics have dismissed the inaugural season as an unmitigated disaster. Glenn Delaney, Nottingham’s director of rugby has suggested the clubs have been sold a pup. Many others are not so kind.
With a quarter of the division’s clubs having been in administration, controversy over dual registration, a burdensome fixture list and the dreaded play-off structure, the naysayers are certainly not short of nays to say.
And don’t forget the failure to attract a sponsor, the lack of television coverage and the dismal British & Irish Cup.
Smoke that lot, Mr Thomas.
“I do not profess to say we have got this all right first time round, we have made mistakes and there are errors,” is his response.
The fact that the union rode roughshod over clubs’ reservations about such issues and effectively railroaded the new structure does not make his position any stronger.
Particularly when the entire campaign could be hurtling head-long towards a cataclysmic and bitter injustice. There is a chance that none of the three clubs that have been in administration will be relegated.
What London Welsh, Coventry and Birmingham & Solihull have effectively done by not honouring all their commitments is told the tax man he can whistle for the various sums he is owed.
The latter two could yet be punished with relegation, but so too could Rotherham, Moseley or Plymouth, clubs that have honoured their obligations.
At Clifton Lane, Billesley Common and Brickfields that smarts somewhat, especially when they could find themselves deprived of £300,000 of central funding and cast back into the community game.
Not even a man as articulate as Thomas can square that circle. “It’s a real problem. I don’t want to see decent people in clubs that have had poor administration not having the opportunity to put things right.
“I have got a bit upset that people say we are only helping Coventry because they are a name. I defy anyone to find a club where we have said ‘Bugger off’.
“I think as a union we have got a responsibility to support all our teams. That will never mean putting money in, though.
“And I am uncomfortable with the fact that for what ever reasons HMRC are losing out. We cannot continue to allow people to away from insolvency they have created. But do we penalise the honest people for the mistakes of their predecessors?”
The question hangs unanswered.
Clearly this was not a situation of the RFU’s making, however, they could certainly have alleviated it by magicking a headline sponsor, as they said they would.
In that regard Thomas claims the governing body had the rug pulled from under their feet. When they were doing most of their arm-twisting Guinness had expressed an interest at another four-year deal with both the Premiership and Championship. Then the financial world changed.
“They came off the table and we have been left to try and find sponsors. I am cautiously hopeful that if Guinness stay with the Premiership they will still come in with the Championship. The ideal scenario for English rugby is like when we had Allied Dunbar One and Two,” he said.
There is also talk, unconfirmed at this stage, of an extra £500,000 going into the pot next season. Sky Sports have committed to showing eight 2010-11 regular season games and the play-offs. This year there has been just one live broadcast.
“The carrot for Sky to come in was they would not have to pay for the first year. From next season they will start paying.
“Most people said until a month ago the best game they have seen on television was the Bristol-Coventry match – that’s a bit of an indictment on the Premiership but something the Championship can be proud of.”
For most English clubs the British & Irish Cup would get nowhere near a TV screen, though. Many matches have been poorly attended and though Thomas claims the Welsh and Irish are rather more positive – the pitiful attendance at the Aberavon-Moseley clash on Monday would suggest that enthusiasm is not shared by the Celtic public.
As a result the competition will be back up for negotiation in the summer, a tacit admission that its basic purpose was to fill a pared down fixtures list.
“Premier Rugby were proposing too many games and the Championship had not enough.
“Going forward is there some way where we can see the bottom six of the Premiership playing in some sort of competition with the Championship?” I’d like to see him try.
All of which points to the conclusion that this season has been very much a case of suck it and see. Many have spat it out already but for all his conciliatory words Thomas remains unrepentant about the broadest issue.
“I still believe that with the fundamental tenet, reducing the Championship from 16 to 12 teams was right,” he insists.
“I have severe regret for the clubs that were relegated but some of them were merely running a rugby club on the back of a handout from the RFU. That is not the best use of our members’ money.”
And neither will be vast legal expenses if the relegated club feels justice has not been served.