The Anglo-Welsh Cup gets underway this weekend and the event could see audiences driven away from the sport after the initial momentum that has started to build in the Magners League and Guinness Premiership.
The Dragons are setting the tone in tonight’s opening game against Newcastle, with hardly a recognised name in the starting line up. Newcastle have opted for a similar approach in order to give some of their squad players a run out.
So if you’ve been nagged about going shopping, or to choose some new curtains, but you’ve thus far resisted so as to watch the rugby, this weekend might be the right time. But it shouldn’t really be like that…
In the days of the Pilkington Cup, some of the hardest-fought matches were played in this competition between the oldest of rivals in English rugby and the knockout competition used to provide a fascinating contrast to the weekly grindstone of league rugby.
This competition does provide a good opportunity for club sides to blood some of their younger players, but to be competitive, there ought to be some rules (unwritten or otherwise) to govern selection, since all it takes is for The Ospreys to take a fancy to the silverware and select their best XV for each game, and wipe the floor with the opposition driving down interest levels as they do so.
The League Cup in football isn’t the most exciting competition, but it is an effective showcase for tomorrow’s international stars, and although I’m loathe to draw comparisons with football, perhaps our sport should take note.
Next year, Mark McCafferty has suggested that the tournament will get a revamp and be scheduled on International weekends, which would certainly encourage teams to field players that don’t play every week.
However, I would go one further. Given that it’s the Anglo-Welsh Cup, why not insist that every player has to be English or Welsh? Otherwise, we could just see the foreign contingent running the show – Carlos Spencer, Luke McAlister, Butch James and Greg Somerville will all be available for club duty during the Six Nations, but if they dominate the Anglo-Welsh Cup, it really does defeat the purpose.
Moreover, how about opening the tournament to clubs in the national leagues in both countries? It would certainly add a competitive element, with the lower ranked teams fighting for giant-killer status and an opportunity to show their worth on a larger stage.
Such a move could even restore some of the ambition to those ‘grass-roots’ clubs, some of whom feel that the door to the Premiership (and the imminent Championship?) is about to be closed and there’s little to play for.
In its former guise, this competition would often bring the excitement and passion of knockout rugby that we rarely see these days, and there must be ways to make it work. Any suggestions would be welcome, since the rugby chiefs appear to be scratching their heads without a solution.