London Irish legend Topsy Ojo has called for the return of relegation to further improve an exciting period of rugby in the Premiership.
For the second season in a row no teams will drop into the Championship but the former winger, who twice went down with the Exiles, insists something has been lost.
“It would be brilliant. The drama and the narratives would be amazing to watch,” Ojo told City A.M. “It would be horrible if you’re a fan with those clubs but it gives another story to tell.
“I am an advocate for promotion and relegation, I think it’s needed, having been someone who’s suffered it.
“The exciting thing is when it does come back on the table it will be good in adding another element to the league, which will be fascinating.
“Over the years I’ve been involved in relegation shootouts, and as much as they’re tense, stressful and horrible situations to be in, if you come out on the other side it’s exhilarating. That release of ‘we’ve done it’ is incredible.”
Premiership Rugby is experiencing one of its tightest run-ins, with seven teams vying for the three remaining semi-final spots – league leaders Leicester Tigers became the first confirmed top-four side last weekend.
Saracens sit in second on 68 points and Ojo’s former club Irish are in eighth on 53, with five clubs between the two London sides.
Harlequins, Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Gloucester and Northampton Saints are in the race, with each of the seven sides in the mix having a varied number of games in hand, bye weeks and home matches to contend with.
Gloucester, for example, are awaiting a disciplinary hearing to determine a result from last weekend while Irish, Sale and Chiefs need to factor in bye weeks.
There are up to 25 points remaining for any given side, depending on bye weekends, and Ojo does believe the lack of relegation has played into clubs simply giving it a go.
“I know there was this worry that ringfencing would diminish the product, and I’ve always been an advocate for promotion and relegation,” he said.
“But I understand that while we are in this Covid-19 recovery period, that we need to have the bridge closed as it were.
“I think it’s allowed a lot of clubs to showcase the best of not just themselves but also their younger talent coming through.
“Maybe it has taken a bit of pressure off and allowed clubs to have a period where they can go ‘right, where are the areas we really want to develop and put some time into?’.”
Leicester suffered a loss in form and used last year to develop a lot of young talent into starting players. This year they’re flying at the top of the league now and looking relentless.
Likewise, London Irish and Gloucester finished last season in ninth and 11th respectively and are now in contention for semi-final places.
“It’s almost like going through a little bit of pain to actually get to where you want to go,” added Ojo, who scored 400 points for the Exiles.
“It’s allowed a lot of clubs to really develop their game plans, develop their culture and blood some new players.
“To have so many teams competing to push for the play-offs in the last five rounds is really great to watch, and a lot of them are going to be playing each other in the coming weeks as well.”
Ojo spent his entire career at London Irish and the now 36-year-old insists his former side must bank as many points as possible before their final-round bye.
“It’s the way the chips have fallen,” he added. “I guess my mindset would be to make sure the job is done so we can actually have a rest going into a potential semi-final.
“I think a week off is actually a good time to reset, have a couple of extra days and give yourself a 10-day lead into a big game. That’s how I would look at it.”
The league is extremely competitive this year and it’s unlikely that the top four will be decided in the coming week or two.
And while lack of relegation may have abetted the league picture fans see today, Ojo is another name on the growing list of those who want the jeopardy of the drop to return.
BT Sport is the home of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. The 2021/22 season continues with London Irish v Harlequins live on BT Sport 1 from 3pm on Sunday 3rd April. For more information visit bt.com/sport