Last week’s blog highlighted my thoughts about rugby on and off the field. I questioned some of the rationale behind the longer season, as well as the bending of the laws of the game that is giving us this multi phase, ruck to ruck game. If I am going to critique the game then it’s only right that I also offer up what I feel could be done. So here I go…
New proposals provide a foggy outlook
I will leave the on-field law changes for next time; in this blog I want to focus on the season plan. The length of the season proposed by the RFU is very long; although the proposals have some breaks in it, they are erroneous and all the timings are not standard for everyone.
The powers that be need to clear the fog and get rid of a few things, and they should start by getting rid of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Get rid of it completely. This would get rid of 21 matches in the season.
What is the Premiership Rugby Cup’s purpose? If it’s a development tool, which most are saying, then those players can develop on loan in the Championship and below, and age grade and university and college rugby. It is not as though we are short of rugby clubs in England for these developing players to get a game.
Having what is effectively a development competition on weekends in the middle of a season just doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels. We are a new professional sport in global terms and we still have way too much fog going on. The Premiership Rugby Cup should go after this season.
Also, get rid of the Premiership Rugby Shield for the same reasons. If it’s to fill stadiums and bring in cash then this can be solved in other ways, as I discuss below. But if the players who are to be involved, and some of the staff as well, go on loan to clubs in the Championship, then players get quality games and teams will get boosted gates and an increased following.
Connections on all levels
When I was Director of Rugby at Newbury RFC, we got promoted into the Championship and I used my connections to really make the most of the closest Premiership Clubs, notably Gloucester and, in particular, Bath. We played both these clubs in pre-season to give the bar takings a big boost and, during the season, many of the Bath and Gloucester players took the field for Newbury in the league (even in second team and friendly fixtures) when the players needed ‘game time’.
We were very amiable as it added to the quality on the field for us and we did not have to pay their wages. Big international players came on loan at various points to our club and it worked really well. We even enjoyed Bath and Gloucester supporters coming down to watch us as their ‘second team’ when they had a spare weekend. I think if I had stayed at Newbury we would have really strengthened those bonds and developed an arrangement that benefitted everyone.
I also think a lot of players that will be playing A league and Premiership Rugby Cup games will be the younger generation coming through. A 19 year old prop is going to learn a lot more playing opposite a prop in their late 30s from the Championship than against another 19 year old prop in the Cup and Shield competitions. It already happens but it would happen a lot more if they scrapped these competitions, spread the games across the season more appropriately with longer break periods, and reduce the workload on staff as well. This will also give more quality to the games and give more spotlight to the Championship.
Rugby might not quite be ready for a proper minor league yet but strengthening those connections between the top flight and the Championship on all levels has real value.
Prem Sevens to join the Cup and Shield
I would also get rid of the Premiership Sevens. I have been to this tournament nearly every year it has run, and I love Sevens and enjoy watching the tournament and seeing the young players coming through. But again, why have it?
I imagine this tournament was to get a foothold in the Sevens calendar when the Olympic inclusion became a reality but it now stands alone without any real point. Simon Amor, as England Sevens head coach, wasn’t at the Premiership Sevens this season, and this just emphasises that it isn’t really a pathway for England Sevens honours.
If the tournament is to develop or give players an early season run out then why not make it 10s instead? At least you get the front five involved and the format is closer to the XVs game. I remember the old Worthington Tens and that was a lot of fun.
The All-Star Weekend
So, how do the clubs and the league make more cash without having all these games? Easy. Put on an All-Star Weekend. How good would that be?
You could fill Twickenham with spectators, and perhaps then rotate the venue each year so it can be played around the country. Two sides, a bit like the East and West Conference seen at the NBA All-Star Game. Tweak the laws a bit to allow rolling subs, but otherwise you don’t need to do much more.
Players and staff would love it, as would the supporters, and you would organise other events around this game too. A kicking competition, a one on one attack competition, a skills event, and a sprint to find the fastest player in the league. Give all the winners of these events one league point to make it even more worthwhile; highlight skill over smash. Ensure there are some cash incentives (charity element here perhaps), and share the pot of takings for the day. Then there’s the merchandise and a big sponsor to give even more to the clubs; now you will get way more bang for your buck than you will by doing those other lengthy competitions.
Learning from the States
It is not a coincidence that all four major sports in the United States do this. Players and supporters love it and its makes cash, big cash. All of this is doable and probably wouldn’t have too much opposition from anyone as it gives staff and players more rest, brings more money into the clubs, and adds something fresh and exciting that will bring in new supporters and sponsors.
Makes too much sense probably…