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The most unloved competition in world rugby

Yes -  you know what I am talking about and before you yawn and click off let me plead the case for the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

This neglected child of rugby has all the right intentions and although the structure of the comp seems to be the brainchild of a bureaucrat and a comedian it does provide a great level of competitive rugby for a huge amount of fringe players. 

First up I do have to admit one of the things I struggle with is the fact every team approaches it differently meaning some teams only put out academy and third string players others put out sides with a healthy sprinkling of first teamers.  There are many, many fans who spend serious amounts of time arguing whether ‘our team is weaker than your team’ but you have to accept it is totally the clubs call on who gets to play and you can’t complain if your young guns get beaten by a more experienced side.

The massive plus is of course the opportunity for those young guns.  Only a few years ago a virtually unknown 20 year old captained his side to victory in the Ango-Welsh.  His name?  Maro Itoje.  I love to see the new players putting up their hands and grabbing the opportunity and this weekend a fair few did just that. From Jordan Olowofeia at Tigers to James Lang  at Quins there were plenty of big performances from the guys who normally don’t make the first team.

I think it is healthy to include Welsh teams albeit that is what gives the competition its strange structure -  to make sure everyone gets to play 4 games you need that weird thing where you do not play the teams in your own pool but a completely different one.  The idea is you do better than the other three in your pool against the same opposition and whoever tops their pool gets to a semi final.  The Welsh sides unfortunately have bombed in the competition which is a real shame as both Scarlets and Ospreys have shown in the European competition that they like a bit of cup rugby.  Looking at the current standings no Welsh team can go through and to my mind it looks like Bath or possibly Gloucester with a home semi plus Harlequins with the other.  Saints and Tigers or Falcons look likely to be the visitors.

The other thing to recognise is that actual attendances at these games are pretty good.  The Tigers pulled in around 18k and Bath, Gloucester and Quins over 10k.   Two games made it onto TV but I had to search very hard to find any coverage in the major newspapers or by broadcasters about the poor old Anglo-Welsh.  Come on the rugby media – you can do better than that.

I watched a fairly experienced Gloucester side take on Ospreys on Friday night and the first half made for very tense viewing if you are of the cherry & white persuasion.  Absolute credit goes to a very young Ospreys side who took it to Glos for the first 50 minutes.  The eventual class of the Kingsholm side of course told and they chalked up a really decent victory in the end scoring seven tries.  For the final round they have to travel up to Kingston Park to play Newcastle who are also fighting to top their pool so that is a tough old game for Ackerman’s side.

The Bath v Newcastle was another real tense game with Falcons absolutely dominating the first half but not quite having the wherewithal to get over the line and Bath putting in a mammoth effort to defend their line.  I think I counted about 4 occasions where Newcastle missed golden opportunities to score and when they eventually got the ball over you knew it was not their night when it was ruled out for crawling along the floor! It was a rare old scoreboard at half time showing 0-0 which in no way did the game justice.  Bath withstood the pressure time and time again and then took control in the second half.  Freddie Burns reminded us all of what a classy fly half he is guiding his team around the park with control and by the end of the game Bath were comfortable winners 21-8 and now need to cross the border over to Wales to face the Ospreys.  The subplot here is they really need a bonus point if they want to hold off Gloucester who are only one point behind with a better try tally.

So in the final round do take a peek at the competition and go along and watch if you can as there is plenty to play for and who doesn’t enjoy trying to spot the next England or Wales superstar.