Sir Ian McGeechan has revealed a new vision for professional Rugby Union in Yorkshire with the announcement of a new club to spearhead the game at the elite level and allow the county to realise its potential as a powerhouse for the game in England and Europe.
Following discussions with the Yorkshire RFU and clubs across the county, McGeechan has unveiled the plan to create Yorkshire Carnegie from the 2014-15 season to replace the existing Leeds Carnegie club. The team will play at Headingley Carnegie Stadium to meet minimum Premiership standards but with the intention to create a side to represent Yorkshire at the highest level and create an integrated Yorkshire wide system.
To achieve that goal, McGeechan is appealing for a broad base of financial support from across Yorkshire from people with a real interest in enhancing Yorkshire Rugby Union's legacy that dates back to 1876 with the formation of the Yorkshire RFU.
Commenting on the announcement McGeechan said, "Since the game went professional in 1995, benevolent individuals at clubs like Leeds, Rotherham and Doncaster have pumped millions of pounds of their own money into trying to make professional Rugby Union a success in Yorkshire. Undoubtedly the player pool within the county is as strong as ever with the fantastic work being done at junior and school levels. We have successfully created an Academy structure that benefits all clubs across the county and the time is right now to spread that philosophy to the senior structure. We now face a crossroads if we are able to create a sustainable future for the professional side of the game."
Recently Luther Burrell became the 134th Yorkshireman to play for England, which represents around 10% of all players who have played for England since the first ever international. England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has given his support to the new venture, as have the Yorkshire RFU. In 2015, Yorkshire will host two games in the Rugby World Cup at Elland Road giving a perfect showcase for the game in the county.
The new club will be in a strong position with a 20,000 capacity stadium, all existing players and staff from Leeds Carnegie as well as benefiting from all the existing sponsorship and income streams that currently go to Leeds Carnegie, including the club's partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University.
Leeds Rugby Chief Executive Gary Hetherington added, "Leeds Carnegie, Rotherham and Doncaster have all tried to create a winning team on the field to gain and retain a place in the Premiership. Clearly, by leveraging talent and support across Yorkshire that gives us the best chance possible of succeeding. The Leeds Academy has long been recognised as the best in the country and that is clearly demonstrated by the success of players such as Danny Care, Calum Clark, Rob Webber and most recently Luther Burrell. These players are the latest in a long history of world class players from Yorkshire that includes the likes Sir Ian McGeechan, John Spencer, Mike Tindall and Rob Andrew. This year marks the 150thanniversary of rugby being played in Leeds for the first time which presents a timely opportunity for us to examine a way forward for the game.
"The business model for professional Rugby Union has changed dramatically over the last decade and now we must forge a new way to give Yorkshire the chance to succeed. Rather than relying on the generosity of a handful of benefactors we now want to create a group to control the Yorkshire franchise and allow the club to challenge the best in England and Europe," added Hetherington.
Leeds Rugby Chairman Paul Caddick added, "Like myself, Ian McGeechan is passionate about Yorkshire Rugby. Since his return to the club he has persuaded the board that in order for us to not just return to the Premiership but compete, we must be in a stronger position. At Leeds we managed to compete for five consecutive seasons in the Premiership but the game has changed at that level and it needs further investment to thrive at the top.
"For many years I have invested a great deal of time, commitment and effort to create a team that the whole county can be proud of and I am happy to continue my involvement if the new board wish me to. Sir Ian McGeechan's vision is one that deserves support by all who care about the game in the county and it has my full backing."