Anglo-Welsh Cup Final 2017

Sunday March 19,2017

Anglo-Welsh Cup  Final 2017

Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs

@ Twickenham Stoop ; k.o. 15.00

 

 

Leicester Tigers …..16

Exeter Chiefs………..12

 

 

Apparently there was a big rugby match in Dublin this weekend, but to say the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final slipped under the radar would be a massive understatement.  

This is a strange competition. Rather like its round-ball equivalent, the Football League Cup, it takes place seemingly when no one else is looking and is competed for by reserve and up and coming players. Originally known as the R.F.U. Club Competition (for which no Cup was awarded!) it kicked off in 1972. It became the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2006, and it says everything about its (lack of) profile that it is currently without a sponsor.

Finals used to be held at Twickenham on the other side of the A316 – I was among the 43,312 crowd who saw Leicester overcome Ospreys in a thrilling final 41-35 on a sun drenched afternoon in 2007.Over the last decade dwindling interest and attendances have caused the final to be shunted around various Premiership stadia. Harlequin’s Stoop was the latest to have the “honour”. The home side were knocked out in the semi-finals so just over 6,000 souls rattled around a stadium meant to hold 15,000 on a dry, blustery March afternoon.

 

Leicester Tigers annual claim to silverware used to be something you could take for granted, but this was their first trophy of any description in four barren years. In a season which has seen Leicester part company with long-time Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill, a first cup since their Premiership title of 2013 can’t have done confidence any harm.

 

On current league form Exeter were clear favourites. They had even trounced the Tigers in the Premiership a few weeks earlier at Welford Road. James Short crossed to give the Chiefs an early lead, but Tom Brady intercepted a loose pass for what proved the decisive try for Leicester before half-time. Freddie  Burns was the difference with three penalties and a conversion in difficult kicking conditions, while his Chiefs counterpart, Joe Simmonds, missed two relatively straightforward penalty attempts either side of half time. Sam Simmonds made it a nervy finish with a late try under the posts but it was too little, too late

 

Tigers became the first club to record a hat-trick of wins in the competition. Exeter were in their third successive final, having beaten Northampton in 2014 and lost to Saracens a year later. The 2014 win remains the club’s only major trophy in their 146-year history, though currently lying second in the Premiership that could change come the end of May.

 

Mike Miles

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

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Leicester Tigers are the rugby equivalent of Arsenal

I have written in the past how rugby union is acquiring the (bad) habits of the round-ball game. We are barely into 2017 and Leicester Tigers find themselves in the position of Arsenal post-Abramovich – qualifying for Europe every season, while living within their means and reducing debt, but never seriously threatening to win the league or a European trophy.

Happy new year to you all,” wrote Richard Cockerill in what turned out to be his final programme notes as Leicester’s director of rugby. Less than 24 hours later, the club announced he had been sacked following the defeat by the club who have become as dominant this decade as the Tigers were in the 2000s, Saracens.

Cockerill became the second director of rugby of a Premiership club to lose his job this season following Andy Robinson’s dismissal by Bristol and five sides are now under different management from last season, as are the relegated London Irish. Leicester could not be accused of acting in haste as they faced up to a prospect of missing out on a trip to Twickenham in May for a fourth consecutive season. But as they showed in 2004 when removing another stalwart who had spent 23 years at Welford Road, Dean Richards, sentiment stretches only so far.

Before the start of the Twickenham double-header in 2004, Leicester were by some distance the best supported club in England and the only one to regularly record a profit. At the end of the previous season, their average gate for a league match was 16,120; Northampton were second, 5,000 behind. Bath, Wasps and Saracens did not make it into five figures.

It was a time when Leicester could sign big names from abroad, such as Pat Howard, Rod Kafer, Aaron Mauger – who is in interim charge of the first team after Cockerill’s departure – and Daryl Gibson, supplementing them with those lesser known such as Marcos Ayerza and Martin Castrogiovanni. These days, the elite end up in the Top 14 or as a marquee signing for English clubs able to live beyond their means.

Just as Roman Abramovich changed Premier League football when he bought Chelsea in 2003 and covered debts of £80m, so the ownership model of clubs ahead of Leicester in the table, Exeter excluded, has recalibrated the Premiership.

Saracens’ debt stood at more than £45m last year after an annual loss of nearly £4m, a shortfall covered by the club’s parent company, Premier Team Holdings Limited.

Bath lost £1.8m last year, down from £3m in 2014. Wasps lost £2.4m and took £35m in debt when they issued a bond scheme that is due in 2022, by which time the club anticipate a significant rise in revenue from outside rugby through the Ricoh Arena. Leicester, a public limited company, have the highest turnover of any Premiership club and the largest number of regular supporters, but paying to improve facilities – the latest upgrade at Welford Road cost £8m – left them reaching the salary cap but not making any marquee signings until the arrival of the Australian centre Matt Toomua last summer, and he played just a couple of matches before sustaining a long-term knee injury.

Leicester find themselves in the position of Arsenal post-Abramovich, going from vying for the title to battling for a top-four place while living within their means and reducing the debt on the Emirates Stadium.

It is in one sense fitting that Leicester’s first match without Cockerill was at Wasps. A couple of years ago it would have meant a trip to Wycombe but now it is a Midlands derby with the former London club now based in Coventry, a shortish drive from Leicester and Northampton, another club run on business lines that is scrabbling to keep up.

The Tigers board’s first task is to look at the coaching setup. Does it go for a director of rugby in the Martin Johnson mould, someone who would let the head coach run the rugby side while having responsibility for recruitment and contracts, or continue with the current structure? Then comes the question of how to compete with clubs such as Saracens, who are able to absorb large losses. Is the old way, on and off the pitch, becoming the wrong way for a club that should be the model for others?

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Bums on European seats wanted…again

Now that the dust has settled on some exhilarating stuff in last weekend’s Champions Cup the organisers should be asking a searching question: “Where have all the fans gone?”

At the quarter-final stage five years ago heavy support was generated all round – 55,000 in Barcelona, 49,762 in Dublin, 32,052 in San Sebastian and 21,309 in Milton Keynes, adding up to almost 160,000. This season’s total of 68,122 therefore represented a drop of 60 per cent.

I watched both semi-finals on television and the most telling image was the empty spaces at the Madejski Stadium and the City Ground in Nottingham. The aggregate total for the two games was 38,968. These are not figures that speak of a competition in the rudest of health. The aggregate attendance for last season’s semi-finals in St Etienne and Marseille was almost 77,000.

 

After all the only team that had to travel any real distance were Racing, and it is simply not good enough to plead that the likes of Saracens or even Wasps despite their Ricoh upturn in support, do not draw big numbers. Leicester Tigers are not regular visitors to European semi-finals but it seems many of the Welford Road regulars could not be bothered to travel the few miles to Nottingham. The last time Leicester played a semi-final at the city Ground, in 2002, they attracted a crowd of 29,849.

 

The absence of the well-supported Irish sides Munster, Leinster and Ulster is one factor in the decline. But there have been recurrent issues with knockout attendances involving Saracens as the home side. In both 2013 and 2014 their semi-finals at Twickenham were played in a stadium two-thirds empty, in contrast to last season’s vibrant occasion at St Etienne’s Stade Geoffroy Guichard when Clermont Auvergne’s “yellow army” turned up en noisy masse.

But then 80,000 turned up to watch Saracens at Wembley the other week. So how come? Saracens plan over a 12-month period for their Wembley outing, and pricing is a key part of the jigsaw they put together. Surely better to sell at a reduced cost. It is not the rugby product that is the issue; it is the pricing, with a range of £17.50 to £60 coming in at around £40 a ticket for the European semis.

If pricing and marketing is one failure another is timing. In the fractious talks that preceded the forming of the new competition there was pressure from the English and French clubs to free up the  calendar at the end of May so that the climax of the domestic season, particularly in France, would hold centre stage.

The squeeze came in Europe. The final itself was even earlier last season, May 2 at Twickenham, and although it has been pushed into a more appropriate slot this season, May 14 in Lyon, the two-week turnaround between the quarters and the semi has not worked. The most difficult game to sell in the entire competition is a semi-final package at neutral venues. A 14-day window is ridiculously restricted.

The organisers are under pressure to deliver profits back to the clubs who now own and run the competition. They need to sacrifice any short-term gain for long-term commitment from the public to this competition.

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Why has Leicester not fallen in love with the Rugby World Cup?

It is arguably the biggest rugby city in England, boasting the country’s biggest team, biggest club stadium and biggest trophy cabinet.
If there is one place where the Rugby World Cup should be biggest this autumn, it is Leicester. And yet, two months before the start of the second largest sporting event Britain has staged in recent years, one of rugby’s traditional heartlands is proving to be the tournament’s greatest headache.
Leicester remains the only place at which none of its allotted games have sold out. All three matches still have tickets available. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the city is threatening single-handedly to prevent World Cup organisers reaching their target of selling out the entire tournament.

Perhaps the answer lies in where the games are being held. Despite hosting games at both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, and being among the venues submitted in England’s 2015 bid in 2009, the home of Leicester Tigers was suddenly branded unsuitable by the tournament’s evaluation committee. Instead, the King Power, or as the organisers insist on calling it, the Leicester City Stadium, was chosen. And to rub salt in the Tigers’ wound, it lies only a hefty kick away from Welford Road.

The outcry was immediate. “The mildest description is outrage,” said Tigers chief executive Simon Cohen.”We thought it was absolutely disgraceful that Welford Road, which is a hotbed of English rugby, wasn’t going to feature in an English World Cup”.
Attempts to overturn the decision –which even included local MP Jon Ashworth raising the matter in Parliament, and petitioning from the region’s chief constable, bishop and both its vice-chancellors – proved futile.
World Rugby, the governing body, stood by a recent tightening of its regulations, which meant Leicester’s pitch, was deemed two metres too narrow, with the ground also found not to meet minimum requirements on changing rooms, anti-doping, and broadcast and media facilities.
Tigers supporters might have expected to be appeased with some plum World Cup ties at affordable prices, but those hopes were crushed when they were handed three of the less attractive fixtures: Argentina v Tonga, Canada v Romania and Argentina v Namibia. With tickets costing anything up to £150, it was seen as another slap in the face for the city.

All this has even prompted what might be considered an attempt to hijack the tournament by the club, who have decided to erect an unofficial fan zone at Welford Road to show World Cup matches – including the two Argentinean matches at the King Power Stadium. There were rumours that World Rugby could try to block the Tigers erecting their own fanzone, although that would risk alienating further a rugby community they desperately want to win round.

Mike Miles
http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

From Crumbie to Holland & Barrett

I have in front of me the programme for the Heineken Cup semi-final between Leicester and Toulouse on January 4,1997. Apart from some well-known names in the line-up (current Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill was “B”-no such boring things as numbers in those days…) there was an illuminating feature on their Welford Road Stadium.

No Caterpillar Stand then, but the Holland & Barrett Stand was there-albeit then known as the Crumbie Stand.This was named after Tom Crumbie, secretary of the club for 33 years until his death in 1928. He presided over an ambitious plan to turn the ground into an international stadium, but went to his grave presiding over what was already regarded as a white elephant. The popularity of rugby union was waning,crowds were dropping, and financial problems meant that the first Tigers Supporters Club was formed in 1934 with the sole purpose of “liquidating the £12,000 debt caused by the building of the Crumbie Stand”.

Nowadays , Leicester Tigers are often described as the Manchester United of English rugby. Like their footballing counterparts, they not only hold the record number of Premiership titles but their Welford Road Stadium, with its 24,000 capacity, is the largest purpose-built rugby union ground in England.

Walk to the ground from Leicester station, along Tigers Way, and the first sighting will be the magnificent GNC Stand. Opened as the Caterpillar Stand in 2009, it seats 10,000 people, and is Phase 1 of a development of the ground that should take capacity up to 30,000.

On a recent visit,for the Tigers v Montpellier Heineken Cup match, I was seated opposite in that one-time infamous Crumbie ,now Holland & Barrett,Stand. This still has the wooden benches, which hearken back to its construction back in the 1920’s, and so serves as a vivid reminder of how far the club had come.

Tigers blown away by old boy

There is an unwritten rule in the round ball game that a returning player will usually score against his old team. I’ve not come across a similar scenario in rugby, but nevertheless, on Sunday it was a Leicester Tigers old boy in Andy Goode who proved the real irritant to them. In the driving wind and rain it was Goode who provided the experience in conditions that seemed to suit him perfectly. He scored 17 out of Wasps’ 22 points with three penalty goals ( one from 60 metres on the angle), a conversion of the game’s only try, and two well-struck drop goals.

Leicester Tigers are the current Premiership champions, and are easily the most successful English side domestically of the past decade with three championships and appearances in six Premiership finals. Yet amazingly, they have not won at Adams Park since September 2007, when Wasps were in their pomp. Since then the home side have flirted with relegation,and even extinction, but they have always managed to get one over the men from the East Midlands.

To be fair to Leicester they were missing 18 players, either injured or on international duty, but they were off-colour here. This was Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill’s first game back in charge after his nine-game matchday ban, but even he was sanguine about the situation.”Our standards need to be better”,he said afterwards,”but in the context of our injuries you can’t be too hard on the guys.”

It can be strange watching rugby at this time of year. Whatever the injury scenario, the top clubs will be denuded of players due to the November internationals.So as a punter you can’t help but feel cheated at being deprived of watching the best players. After all, when World Cup qualifiers are being played, football’s Premiership is suspended for that weekend.So if rugby insists in carrying on,and the clubs know what will happen, how come none of them see fit to lower their admission prices as an acceptance of the lower class fare on offer?