Plymouth Albion’s managing director Max Venables has fired a stinging broadside towards the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as the Brickfields outfit were handed a points deduction for their 2020-21 National League campaign, writes Gareth Davies.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Venables blasted the RFU’s handling of an investigation into what the governing body have called the club’s ‘highly negligent and inaccurate declaration in relation to players’ payments.
On top of a five-point penalty for 2020-21, with a further 15 suspended for the duration of next term, the club have also lost out on travel benefits of £20,000, for what they claim was simply ticking the wrong box on a form relating to player payments in the 2018-19 season.
Teams at National League One level must expend no more than £275,000 per season on player wages and Venables admitted that the club had spent well-under that threshold in 2018-19. The problems arose when the club were filling in complex return forms to the RFU on this subject.
In what Venables insists was an honest error, the club didn’t tick a box stating that their players received ‘material benefits’.
In effect, the RFU took it that they didn’t pay their players when they do. Despite realising the error almost straight away, the RFU refused to let the club amend their return and in a saga that has needlessly dragged on for close to a year, Venables says the RFU’s actions have not been in keeping with their own ‘Spirit of the Game’ mandate.
“My understanding of the whole exercise was to determine how much players were getting paid, not to nit-pick,” Venables fumed. “I held my hands up and said we filled the form in wrong, but there was still time to make a second declaration.
“The RFU prevented me from making a second declaration to get things right and working with them, we established we were well below the payment threshold. We therefore had no inclination that we were going to be charged with a breach of regulations. Then, all of a sudden, the charge came out. We were then delayed six months before a hearing and even that was delayed on the day due to the unavailability of a panel member.
“The second hearing then just so happened to be on the same day that they ended the 2019-20 season because of Covid-19. The RFU then decided that essentially, a £20,000 fine wouldn’t hurt us for yes being negligent in their eyes, but we immediately held our hands up and said we got it wrong.”
A furious Venables also revealed that on top of the fine and points deduction, which he says should have been reflected in Albion’s 2019-20 tally, the club have also lost out on all RFU benefits which means the Devonian’s weren’t permitted to access central funding made available during the coronavirus pandemic.
“All these Covid-19 benefits released to help clubs was stripped from us,” he added. “I feel the way the club have been dealt with is the complete opposite to the spirit of rugby. They (the RFU) said in their judgement that there was no intentional wrongdoing, so I would expect, in the spirit of rugby and actually, in the spirit of most situations, that this (the punishment) wouldn’t happen. I feel that the RFU were trying to save some money and gave us a honeytrap of a question. I established that I got it wrong and in any situation, you would expect the opportunity to put it right.
“That’s been denied and not only was it denied, but in an effort to justify this, they have gone so harsh with a points deduction, while leaving us in open water during the Covid-19 crisis and we feel completely cast aside by the RFU.”

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.