Up for a Cup?

With six games left in the season and it looking increasingly like the title race is one being run by two horses one could be excused for looking beyond league proceedings. Stew Mel, I’m sure, would love to forget about league duties! Even the Cup looks to have become less of factor in premier clubs thinking. My brother and I could argue for hours about this. Sure it is still a huge event and obviously it is a massive honour to end your season on the big pitch at Murrayfield, but with fewer teams (Premier 1,2 and 3 only) competing for the Cup it can take less effort over a season to get there. If you win one game you’re into the quarter finals. So what is the result of this?

Suddenly more eyes are turning towards the British and Irish Cup. This season has been given more significance for certain amateurs because they have had an opportunity to measure themselves against professional players. Having played in a couple of games in the B&I Cup with Heriot’s I have enjoyed it but in some facets of the game, not all, it is difficult to compete with full time professionals. Playing against Coventry, a team that at the time of our game was complaining of over training with two sessions a day, four days a week, we competed in terms of skill, creativity and endeavour. Where we fell down was that we simply weren’t as big as our opposition, or as ‘collision-drilled’. This is to say that we weren’t able to stop the constant pounding of a massive English rucking game. This, it seems, will continue to afflict any amateur team facing a mature pro counterpart.

While both club teams have been competitive, Ayr winning against Rotherham and Heriot’s running Nottingham close, it is evident that Scottish club players are capable of out playing full time opposition. However, it is no great shock that Scotland’s player base has the depth of a teaspoon. If rumours are to be believed then the SRU fully intends to increase Scottish participation in the B&I Cup to four teams. How could teams, by definition, of less quality than the top two teams in Prem 1 be as competitive? There just aren’t enough players in our country. In order to compete with Welsh, Irish and, in particular, English teams we definitely don’t have enough monsters. So what should we do to contend on four fronts in the B&I Cup?

If you are a fan of club rugby most of you will be effing and blinding at your screen (much as if you were watching yet  another rolling maul from Munster in the HC). The majority, it appears, want a return of the district teams. And why not?! If you want better players in certain positions for one team, pick from the best nearby. If the current league finishes the way it is now then the top four will comprise of a representative from the North (Dundee), the South (Melrose), the East (Currie) and the West (Ayr), anyway, showing how combative each region already is.

If the Scotland Club International has shown us anything it’s that amateur players relish the opportunity to play as near as they can get to their dream level:  with a thistle on their chest. A lucky few have also propelled themselves into the professional ranks via the Club International. The same could happen through the districts. Surely the ultimate aim of teams like the Club International is to provide Scotland with more potential internationalists. If there is, say, a quality young player at West of Scotland who is never seen by Sean Lineen but could make the step up to pro rugby then they may never get the chance to prove themselves, more than once, at a higher level while Ayr and Ayr alone represent the West in the B&I Cup. Let players prove themselves. Sure there will be inter club politics but there always is anyway. There may be grumblings from the National Academy but just let Academy guys and unused  pros play for the region of the club they are drafted to.

 What harm can bringing back the districts do? If I was certain to finish mid-table with my club and no prospects of a Club International cap I would be crying out for a chance to play district rugby. Hell, if I was getting relegated I’d still want a district call!

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.