OXFORDSHIRE’S clubs will have an extra incentive next season as they prepare for major changes to the league structure.

The Rugby Football Union Council has approved new measures that will take effect from the 2022/23 campaign, in a bid to boost participation in the community game.

League sizes will be reduced and teams grouped geographically to minimise travel time, with the changes designed to put player welfare first and support club sustainability.

Chinnor play in National League 1, the highest level affected by the decision, where the number of teams will drop from 16 to 14.

It is understood this could mean up to five sides are relegated next season to balance the divisions, but director of rugby (DoR) Richard Thorpe is supportive.

He said: “If we’re looking at long-term sustainability I think it’s a really good move.

“30 games a season is a lot of rugby, and a lot of training sessions for people who have full-time jobs.

“I think we’ll see a higher calibre of rugby.

“We need to ensure we’re comfortably in the top half of the table.

“This is going to refine our focus.

“It’s going to be challenging, but you can’t ignore the long-term benefit.”

The changes include protected weekend breaks across the season, with a guaranteed fortnight off over Christmas.

A third division will be added at Level 4, which includes Henley Hawks’ division, National League 2 South, with competitions at the top two tiers capped at 14 teams each.

No more than 12 teams will compete in each league at Level 5 and below.

The number of divisions in that tier will increase from four to six, while it will grow from eight to 12 at Level 6, where Banbury Bulls, Oxford Harlequins, Witney and Grove will compete next season.

It means these teams could go up just by finishing in the top three or four, but Banbury head coach Matt Goode is not getting ahead of himself.

He said: “For us, it’s a great opportunity to look forward and plan.

“But if we don’t perform this year it’s completely irrelevant.

“There are six or seven teams who are in a very good competitive position.”

Stuart Wells, DoR at Oxford Harlequins, backs the measures but thinks clubs’ first and second XVs should have identical fixture lists to simplify logistics.

“The structure makes sense, I just think it’s half-baked,” he said.

“At the moment every Saturday your first XV is going in one direction and your second and thirds in another.

“So many clubs are struggling post-pandemic and this would reduce costs.”

Wells added: “You have to take a big chunk out of your day and people will get more of their Saturday back.

“I think that will encourage participation, particularly at Level 5.

“If there’s the opportunity to add more of a league cup, that’s something the players enjoy.”

OXFORD Harlequins will host The Lord Mayor of Oxford’s Festival of Rugby this weekend.

Teams from Oxford Brookes University will face Quins in four back-to-back matches on Saturday, ending with The Lord Mayor’s Cup between both sides’ first XVs.

On Sunday, selected Under 18 XVs will represent the Lord Mayor, Mark Lygo, against Quins Academy U18s.

There will also be taster and fitness sessions streamed live, with all proceeds going to the Lord Mayor’s chosen charities.