There is a small matter of a World Cup taking place at the moment. It kicked off last Friday (September 20) and will dominate coverage of the sport for the next six weeks.
As a consequence, the English domestic season, which normally starts at the beginning of September, was put back. The Gallagher Premiership has to wait until mid-October, but the 19/20 season saw daylight this weekend with the start of the Premiership Rugby Cup. First up was Harlequins against Bristol Bears at the Stoop on Friday evening. The attendance was a very reasonable 9051 – I was the “1”.
(incidentally, it will be exactly nine months until the English domestic season reaches a climax with the Premiership Final in mid-summer)
This will actually be the 48th season of England’s national rugby union competition, but only the second under the “Premiership Rugby Cup” banner. Previously it was known as the Anglo-Welsh Cup (which had been running since 2005, when the Welsh regions joined the then English-only Powergen Cup), but at the end of the 2017/18 season the Welsh regions withdrew. It is now a knockout competition for Premiership rugby teams.
There is no stipulation on player selection, though the cup is seen by many clubs as a development competition for younger players. However, this year, with the first four rounds taking place while the World Cup is on, it takes-on more of a pre-season preparation flavour. Yet the Quins team on Friday night had no Chris Robshaw, no Mike Brown, no Marcus Smith, though there were a smattering of recognizable names such as Joe Marchant and James Chisholm.
Full-back Aaron Morris scored two tries as Quins beat Bristol Bears 24-12. After Brett Herron had opened the scoring with an early penalty, the two efforts from Morris helped the hosts go 17-0 up before Tom Pincus replied just before the break with a try that went unconverted. Charlie Mulchrone added Quins’ third try in the 77th minute, with Mat Protheroe registering the visitors’ second moments later.
In truth it was an error-ridden match. Bristol’s errors began from the kick-off when Joe Batley fumbled, and Bristol coach Pat Lam lamented the number of errors that had cost his side tries. A try from either side in the last five minutes did little to enliven a dire second half, not helped by the inevitable deluge of substitutes.