Without a league game in 11 months, Trailfinders play Sarries on Saturday unsure of what the next rung up will soon look like

The waiting is the hardest part. By now the players of Ealing Trailfinders and Saracens must feel more like dust-covered museum exhibits than professional athletes, a throwback to a distant era. Ealing have not had a competitive league game since last February, Saracens’ last fixture before their Premiership relegation was on 4 October. The forgotten warriors of the Championship have had their mental strength sorely tested.

It is the next phase, though, that really counts. Beyond Saturday’s campaign-opening loosener between the two London clubs in rugby’s newest tournament, the Trailfinders Challenge Cup, lies a defining decision. All the talk is of the Premiership being expanded to 13 sides and then ringfenced, with the suspension of relegation and Saracens’ return to the elite widely perceived as formalities. Like so much else in rugby, the reality is less straightforward.

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