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London Irish forward Blair Cowan on fence in relegation debate

London Irish may be teetering on the brink of relegation from the Aviva Premiership but Blair Cowan is still reluctant to favour ring-fencing the top flight.

The bottom-place Exiles face their only rivals in their race for survival when they travel to Newcastle on Sunday with the winners ensuring their destiny lies in their own hands for the remaining two games.

Debate over the merits of relegation has raged for years with opponents claiming it prevents the growth of clubs into successful businesses while encouraging a safety-first playing style.

Cowan sees both sides of the argument, but is convinced that the ultimate aim of any changes must be to see more attacking rugby in the Premiership.

"Obviously given the situation we're in now, I'd rather there isn't relegation!" the Scotland back row said.

"In some ways it's very healthy because teams in the lower leagues with aspirations have something to aim for.

"But if there wasn't relegation, then it would take away the fear of losing and people would really open up rugby-wise.

"It's a tough one though because then you see a club like Exeter - it's pretty unique and cool what they've done there.

"It's definitely something the Premiership wants to keep, but at the same time there needs to be more attacking rugby and ring-fencing would definitely help that. It's a big debate.

"Super Rugby's bonus point system for three clear tries might be a good idea. But Super Rugby and the Premiership are different worlds.

"The weather makes a big difference and over here you can't open up in the winter, so you have to rely on your forwards and set-piece.

"In every section of the league there is something to fight for - survival, Europe and the play-offs. That makes it pretty unique.

"It's an amazing competition and definitely the most intense environment I've ever played in."

That intensity will ratchet up a notch when Irish visit Kingston Park knowing that victory will see them replace Newcastle in 11th place.

"We're under no illusion about the harsh reality of what this game and the result means," Cowan said.

"We can't think too much about that though - we have to think about ourselves and our roles so that the occasion doesn't overwhelm us.

"A massive positive for us has been our set-piece. We've played against the big dogs and come out on top in the set-piece.

"That's a confidence booster for us. Our game management against Quins last weekend was very good. If we put the two together, we're a force to be reckoned with."

In Sunday's other fixture, Sale will be hoping to maintain their challenge for a Champions Cup place next season when they host Bath.


From Belfast Telegraph