Anglo Welsh Cup Not Fulfilling Purpose

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Saracens v Leicester Tigers - Anglo-Welsh Cup
BARNET, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A general view of the pitch prior to the Anglo-Welsh Cup match between Saracens and Leicester Tigers at Allianz Park on February 5, 2017 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

As the Northern Hemispheres ‘rugby attention’ has turned to the Six Nations, English and Welsh clubs have returned to Anglo Welsh Cup action. Understandably the media are busily reporting on the first three fixtures of the annual Championship meanwhile, many supporters up and down the country still focus on club matters.

Surprisingly, it would appear, so are the clubs themselves. The competition has evolved into a development opportunity for younger players–but this hasn’t been exploited properly in the past two weeks. Last Word On Rugby look at the reasons why.

Who Has Been Given an Opportunity?

LWOR has previously covered the benefits of blooding youngsters in the Anglo Welsh Cup (AWC). However after the group stage, it is hard to highlight some names who may be the ‘stars of the future’. Perhaps Saracens’ fly half Tom Whiteley (pictured below), who scored three tries in four games. Or Gloucester scrum-half Ben Vellacott, who ‘rescued a draw’ at Bath in round three.

Saracens player Tom Whiteley crosses for the fourth Saracens try during the Anglo-Welsh Cup match between Scarlets and Saracens at Parc y Scarlets on January 27, 2017 in Llanelli, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It certainly isn’t the likes of Ben Foden, Stephen Myler or Ken Pisi, who started for Northampton last Friday night. The former two combined for an excellent try, but who didn’t know they were capable of that before? Against the Scarlets; who like the other Welsh regions are disproportionately affected by international call-ups, on Friday a full-strength Saints side were always going to win comfortably. The 50-10 victory may give confidence and momentum to a misfiring side–but this is not the primary purpose of the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Cup Should Provides Opportunities for Non First-Team Players

Recent proposals for the Championship have been devised on the basis that over half of England’s professional rugby players are not on the pitch every weekend. So when clubs do not give fringe players opportunities in designated games for ‘non first-team players’, this problem is exacerbated. Make no mistake, AWC matches are still important fixtures to clubs, in development and for those who must maintain their revenue streams. Therefore a sprinkling of star names may be a crowd pleaser and a useful marketing tool, but when do non first-team players get their starts?.

In saying that, the most exciting game of round four; Cardiff Blues vs Worcester Warriors, featured by no means each sides first choice line-ups. While the attendance at the Arms Park was only 1370, by comparison to any Premiership fixture, it wasn’t even ‘noticeable’ in the city that there was a match on.

Scheduling Does Not Assist Anglo Welsh Cup

The tournament format and timing do not help themselves though. The timing (necessarily during a Six Nations window) means there is little-to-no coverage in non-specialist rugby media. As an example, the BBC Rugby Union homepage has ‘no mention’ of any of the weekend’s matches. To a casual observer, it could easily have seemed like there has been no club rugby the last two weekends.

Secondly, the fact that by round four, some matches might be referred to as dead rubbers doesn’t help attendances. The example being Gloucester, who normally rouse at least 10,000 for any home game at any time–only 8,310 people attended this last match against Newport Gwent Dragons. Not helped that the Dragons had only won a single game, but some fixtures with a lack of ‘name players’ does not transpose well into large spectator numbers.

There are no rules governing ‘who’ teams can and cannot field during the Anglo Welsh Cup. However the trends from this year’s competition suggest it is going to lose its main selling point. Concerns about ‘player burnout’ continue and for LWOR it is only sensible that specific rest periods like this are adhered to.

The youngsters filling in for the first-choice internationals now, will be the stars of Six Nations in years to come. It is a shame [that for some] they are being denied their chance to shine now.

“Main photo credit”

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