Is Premiership Rugby Cup fit for purpose? Question for RFU

Is Premiership Rugby Cup fit for purpose?
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The Premiership Rugby Cup has gone through several forms in recent years. It has contained teams from Wales and England and known as the Anglo-Welsh Cup and we have seen the tournament under the sponsored name, the LV Cup.

Currently, with the addition of a thirteenth team to the Gallagher Premiership, we have the most recent format. Though all the sides competing for the 2021/22 Premiership Rugby Cup may still aim to hoist it high, there are renewed questions that include; is the Premiership Rugby Cup fit for purpose?

Finer details: Premiership Rugby Cup format

Now the competition is made up of three pools with two containing four teams while the other has five. Every team will play four games in the pool stages and will have one bye week. This sees them play every other team in their pool and for the pools of four, they play one team from the other pool of four. Once the pool stages are finished, the three pool winners and the best runner-up qualify for the semi-finals where the top seed hosts the fourth seed, and the second seed plays at home to the third seed. The winners of these teams then go on to contest the final. This may all sound very complicated and that is because it is.

Rugby is a sport that is fighting for space in the sporting market where football dominates. Therefore, rugby needs to be able to advertise itself effectively to even stand a chance. This format makes that incredibly difficult as it is hard to understand and if fans do not understand what is going on, they will get bored and lose interest. Rugby is a complicated sport enough already with so many laws to try and get our heads around, this added confusion will only serve to disinterest fans in the sport. If this competition is to truly benefit the sport as a whole and appeal to both current and potential fans, the format needs to change.

Promotion of Young talent primary function

One great positive of the Premiership Cup is that it provides a level of rugby that is not quite at Premiership intensity, but close enough that players can get an idea of what it takes to play in England’s top division. This has a few benefits. Firstly, it allows players who are pushing for a place in the first team to show what they can do. Global stars including Itoje, Nowell and May have used this competition as a springboard to push on to bigger things.

The slight drop in intensity also means the competition is a good way to reintroduce senior players to the team. After a long time away due to injury, suspension or other circumstances players can become rusty. This provides the player with valuable game time so they can get back to full fitness for the tougher competitions. Moreover, the younger players have players alongside them who are experienced and can lead them on the field.

As well as developing excellent players, the Premiership Cup can be helpful for teams in further developing their coaching staff. It is now common for the head coach to take more of a backseat role in preparation for these games. This allows a junior coach to step up and gain valuable experience in coaching at a higher level. Here they can understand what it takes at the higher levels of the game. A good example of the progression this can lead to can be seen with Adam Powell. He was previously one of the academy coaches for Saracens and took charge of the team during this tournament. This provided experience at the top level to a point where Saracens believed he was the right man to take over as defence coach following the departure of Alex Sanderson.

Too much rugby? PRC casualty of modern calendar

The debate around player welfare is rightfully continuously being discussed. An idea often discussed is to reduce the game time of players. With the A-league already gone, it is not unreasonable to predict that the next casualty could be the Premiership Cup. The presence of midweek games this season only adds weight to this idea. This means that squads have to be managed even more meticulously so that players are well looked after. With the shrinking salary cap meaning many squads have been trimmed and the other club competitions plus the international calendar to consider, this becomes an incredibly difficult task.

Potential solution to Premiership Rugby Cup

This tournament is a great stepping stone for young talent in the playing and coaching teams. However, it exists in a format that is stretching the calendar and confusing the fans. There has been much made over the last couple of years about what to do about England’s second division. Even more so with both Ealing and Doncaster being denied promotion to the Premiership even if they win the Championship this season. A possible solution to both problems could be to scrap the Premiership Cup. Then these players could still get game time by going on loan to the Championship.

This would strengthen the quality of the Championship and give game time to these fringe players.

Of course, this would need more thought going into it, but it takes two competitions that struggle to attract fans and provides an opportunity to create a second division that could thrive.

With questions still for the RFU to answer, stakeholders wish that the Premiership Rugby Cup can again become ‘fit for purpose’ and be seen again as a key component for rugby in the United Kingdom to celebrate – not keep questioning.

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