RAMS RFC's outside National One promotion hopes have suffered a major blow after the club were deducted five points following an administrative error.

The indiscretion relates to a breach of the RFU's Payment of Players Declaration via the GMS (Game Management System) in March 2019.

In a statement, Rams chairman, Andy Lynch, said: "I regret to announce that following the Club’s submission of its Payment of Players Declaration via the GMS (Game Management System) to the RFU in late March 2019, the RFU Disciplinary Panel have decided the Club should be sanctioned by an immediate 5 league points deduction, and a remaining 15 point deduction, suspended for two seasons.

"I would like to explain what has happened and the process applied by the RFU over this matter in order to give our players, coaches, members and supporters a clear understanding of this judgment. We have learnt a lot from this process and hope that our experience with the RFU’s new Regulation 7 can help other clubs avoid making any unfortunate errors.

"In March 2019, ahead of the due date of 30th June 2019, the club submitted the new return required by the RFU on the payment of players. It was signed by 4 club officials; our Adult Registrar and 3 members of the Executive Committee, including myself. We later learned that we had failed to tick the correct box via the RFU’s GMS, which had asked ‘Do any players or playing coaches receive any material benefit for playing rugby for the club, whether directly of via a third party’ and as a result we submitted an incorrect return.

"The inaccuracy in the declaration was drawn to the Club’s attention by the RFU’s disciplinary department in early April 2019 and written submissions were immediately made to the RFU regarding what the Club believed to be a mistake in completing and signing the form. The GMS does not allow a submitted declaration to be amended or re-submitted, even when an error has been made.

"Following a 4 month investigation the RFU decided to exercise its powers and charge the Club with a breach of Regulation 7 (Payment of Players) by a disciplinary charge dated 4 September 2019. The case was then passed to a Disciplinary Panel who looked at written submissions and heard evidence from both ourselves and the RFU between October 2019 and January 2020 to establish the case and decide the sanction to be applied.

"This process concluded that the RFU accepted our declaration was neither deliberately inaccurate nor dishonest and payments made to Rams RFC players in season 2018-19 were well below the £157,500 payment threshold for clubs at National 2, level 4. However, the RFU felt that we had not taken proper responsibility for the procedures required for signing and submitting the form and that we were careless.

"Under Regulation 7 failure to submit an accurate declaration results in the loss of RFU benefits for the following season (i.e. the current season 2019-20). For us this means the loss of the travel grant and the requirement to pay the full amount for match officials rather than a contribution to them. This equates to a figure of approx. £8,500 for the season.

"The RFU sought to impose, in addition to the loss of financial benefits, a 20 league points deduction suspended for two seasons (the suspension reflected that the club was paying below the threshold and thus complying with the essence of the regulation). A 20 league point deduction is the penalty in the Regulations for providing deliberately false or misleading information in a Match Result Card.

"Immediately the Club received notice of the proceedings on 10 September it formally accepted the charge of submitting an inaccurate declaration and the loss of RFU benefits but wished to argue that the league point deduction sanction was overly harsh and inappropriate.

"It became apparent, during the course of the proceedings, that this was the first case of its kind relating to the Payment of Players Declaration. The Regulation did not specify a penalty over and above the loss of RFU benefits. The case involved two hearings in London (on 10 October 2019 and 13 January 2020) before an RFU disciplinary panel of three independent barristers at which the RFU was represented by a QC.

"In its judgment which was issued on 12 February 2020 the disciplinary panel imposed an immediate 5 league point deduction with the remaining 15 points suspended for two seasons as a punishment and a deterrent. The activation of the suspended element of the penalty would occur only if, in the relevant submission windows in the 2019/20 or 2020/21 seasons, the Club committed a further breach of Regulation 7.

"There may well be a feeling that we have been dealt with harshly, especially as we are rightly proud of our transparent approach to the payment of players and have observed and fully support the RFU payment threshold. However as this was the first case of its kind we have been made an example of how the RFU apply the regulations.

"Those of us who signed the inaccurate declaration and the Executive as a whole deeply regret that our collective failing has led to this outcome for the Club. The whole experience has been extremely stressful for everybody involved.

"The Executive Committee has taken account of advice regarding the prospects of successfully appealing the decision and the impact that a further inquiry would have on our volunteers who help to run the club and has voted against lodging an appeal.

"I would like to personally reassure the Club as a whole - its players, coaches, members and supporters – that the circumstances which led to this error will not be allowed to happen again. As a club we adopt a positive approach to errors both on and off the field. This approach has stood us in good stead and means we can focus our precious time, energy and resources on the right outcomes. We have all learnt from this process and it has made us even more determined to press on with building a successful and sustainable Community Rugby Club."

Rams return to action at home to Rotherham Titans on Saturday (2pm).