Premiership Rugby Cup needs Selection Restrictions

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LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Worcester Warriors' Francois Hougaard clears under pressure from Leicester Tigers' Sam Harrison during the Premiership Rugby Cup match between Leicester Tigers and Worcester Warriors at Welford Road on November 3, 2018 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Two weeks into the revamped English cup competition, the Premiership Rugby Cup, and it has become clear that a lot of work is still needed to shape it into an truly memorable competition.

The introduction of age limits and homegrown academy requirements would help cement this as a development competition where future stars are found.

Quality of Premiership Rugby Cup not clear to supporters

The distraction of the Autumn Internationals means supporters need a concrete reason to part with their cash. Following the withdrawal of the Welsh regions, there is no longer the appeal of cross-border clashes. Nor the chance of a different away trip, and to see different teams.

Last Word on Rugby reporter David Challis has recently reviewed whether the competition is fit for purpose. Whilst most people appreciate it is (often) the only opportunity some clubs get to rest star players, it is hard to assess what sort of match will be offered.

Currently it is up to the clubs’ discretion to select who they see fit (sometimes literally). Fair enough, perhaps, given the players are assets of the club. However it could well be in all teams’ interests to set some ground rules to encourage engagement and set a baseline of quality for the competition as a whole.

Clubs should agree on terms of engagement

If say 17 out of a squad of 23 players, or just under 75%, had to be under 25, this would clearly signal the competition as for future and emerging talent. There will always need to be some leeway to allow older players to play, so those returning from injury or suspension are able to build up gametime.

Indeed those returning from injury can be a pull for supporters. The Bristol vs Gloucester match in round two saw Charles Piutau and Jaco Kriel make their long-awaited debuts off the bench.

A second complimentary guideline could stipulate that a certain amount of players must have come from the club academy. This could maybe go as high as 12 players out of 23, or 50% of the squad.  Gloucester showed this was possible in Round One, where 13 of their starting 15 were academy graduates against a similarly youthful Wasps.

These measures are things that clubs are generally expected to aim for informally, but this allows for variation. Premiership matches have English Qualified Player and Overseas players restrictions, so these constraints would not be major problems for clubs.

Uneven contests lead to poor spectacles

Some clubs, like Saracens, will necessarily have to rotate their squad because of their large amount of internationals. Others need to ensure as much of their squad gets game-time or will want to try different options.

However with the current open field, there have been serious mismatches that will only serve to turn off supporters and limit the learning opportunities for players and coaches. It is this that contributed to the Welsh region exit; results such as Newcastle Falcons 57 Cardiff Blues 0 and Scarlets 0 Exeter Chiefs 40 were the final straw for Welsh teams with smaller squad depth during International periods.

Unfortunately this has continued this season, with Worcester Warriors the prime culprits. They named 11 of the same 15 starting lineup at Leicester that had played the corresponding league game just weeks earlier. By contrast the Tigers fielded only four of the same players.

The result? A walkover.

The match finished 31-12 to Worcester with the result pretty clear by half time. Is that the sort of match that will bring in the crowds year on year in this competition?

Premiership Rugby Cup needs Selection Restrictions

There’s no doubt that this competition is here to stay. However the offering to the public is still confused. With the fixtures now all-Premiership clashes, there needs to be some differentiating factor from league matches. Otherwise interest and attendances will suffer further.

Make the Premiership Rugby Cup clearly and measurably about developing talent, and there will at least be a clear and solid justification for the tournament.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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