Is it time the Premiership Rugby Cup had a makeover?

The one thing I absolutely love about rugby is seeing the next generation make a mark on the big stage, trying to, and sometimes successfully competing with those internationals who have held their place for so long. But with the rugby calendar ever increasing and the demands on rugby player’s bodies getting more intense, isn’t it time for the Cup to get a revamp? 

Monday night A league, or now as it’s known, Premiership Rugby Shield. A perfect opportunity for those senior academy players pushing for a spot in the first team to stretch their legs and get some valuable game time. The main objective of this league is to develop those young players in the Premiership. However, turnouts can be sketchy and sometimes the stands only reach the few very loyal supporters and friends and family, whilst some clubs could see a few hundred supporters.

Cast your minds to the Premiership Rugby Cup. The same principle of a platform for the younger players, but sometimes overlooked when clubs play big names to ensure silverware is on the cards. A much higher turn-out of fans and some fast flowing, no regrets rugby.

So why not merge the two? 

Merging the Premiership Rugby Cup and the Shield is a big call; let alone the steps it would take to make this merger work. Nevertheless, surely it would be better for the game? Less rugby played in what is already a jam-packed schedule and an opportunity to showcase some of the best young talent. 

Gloucester warming up for a Premiership Rugby Cup fixture

But what about the senior players that play in the Cup? Well this is where I think it could come quite interesting. A lot of Sheild games feature some very good players who are coming back from injury, and this I think could be a strong point for the merger. Only senior players who are coming back from a lengthily injury should be available for selection or those who have played less than five games for their club across the Premiership and Europe.

The onus then being, that teams must pick senior academy talent to play, so that they can get some experience and know what it is like to compete for silverware.

There are already so many weekends taken up by the Gallagher Premiership, Europe, Six Nations and World Cups, so let’s keep this new league on the same day A league takes place – Monday night but have the television perks of the Cup. These games must be televised, let us see the talent that is coming through English domestic rugby. 

Who wouldn’t like to go and see their clubs best young talent on display after work on a Monday? Something to lighten up the week. The majority of Shield fixtures are scheduled for a Monday evening, so there would be little change to the calendar in that respect.

Not only does this give young players an opportunity to showcase talent on a bigger stage, but it allows them to have a potentially rare opportunity of playing in front of a TV audience –  something that is already present with the Cup, so it clearly can work.

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Arguably, there will be limited leaders on the pitch, making core decisions in crucial moments. However, allowing these young players to take on leadership roles and responsibilities can only benefit them for their future career. Give them a platform to really work upon and towards, to show to other players and coaches they have the ability to play really good rugby and push for a place in the starting team in the not so distant future.

That being said, some of these players will miss out on an opportunity to sign a senior contract, so why not give them something to pride themselves on and work towards before they get told they won’t make it in the Premiership.

So, what does this merger that I am so fond about actually mean? Well, the Shield is technically taken away, but with not only the incentive, but the rules that the academy players are the only players allowed to feature unless senior players have had a sustained injury or has played under five games for their club across the Premiership and Europe. 

Essentially, Monday night Shield games turn into a new revised Premiership Cup. Better for the rugby calendar, more chances for young players to play in big matches and a great way to start your week. What’s not to love?

In a society where we are trying to ‘be kind’, why are we still hounding sports stars and celebrities?

After last year’s tragic news that Caroline Flack had taken her own life, following a whirlwind of press hounding and police investigations, people started to respond and become ‘kinder’.

High profile celebrities and close friends of the 40-year-old pleaded that things must change within the press and social media after she paid the ultimate sacrifice in taking her own life. Those friends and celebrities joined hundreds of thousands of people campaigning for ‘Caroline’s Law’. The law they were proposing was to look at the way that tabloid journalism reports on celebrities.

The TV presenter’s former boyfriend and close friend, Danny Cipriani took to social media to express his sadness and show his raw emotions. In the video he hoped to encourage everyone to be more sensitive and kind, but especially those in the public eye.

Following the fly-half’s social media post, Gloucester Rugby launched their ‘be kind’ campaign in the hope of raising awareness for mental health within society and rugby. The quick response by the club was praised throughout the rugby community as they tried to help people understand the importance of having good mental health. They also spread information on how to help those suffering from mental illness and the importance of understanding general mental health issues.

On Friday 28th February, Gloucester Rugby players carried the be kind message with them for their fixture against Sale. Printed across the back of all their shirts was one important message, be kind.

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The mental health conversation isn’t just lacking within the game of rugby, it is lacking across society and in all sports. In a year where the world has been hit by a pandemic that no-one could have comprehended, the mental health conversation and positive message should be something happening daily. Sadly it is not.

How many times over the last few months have you seen nasty, spineless comments across social media directed at the Prime Minister, his cabinet and various MP’s?

Mental health in numbers

  • One in 10 children will suffer from a mental health issue
  • One in four adults will suffer from a mental health issue
  • One in six people are reporting they are suffering from a common mental health issue (depression or anxiety) every week
  • An average of 20.6 people out of 100 have had suicidal thoughts
  • In 2018, 6,507 people in the UK committed suicide
  • In the UK men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women
  • Suicide is the highest killer of men between the age of 45-49

If you type into the search bar of twitter, #bekind, thousands upon thousands of posts appear encouraging people to start to be kinder in the hope that less will suffer in silence or suffer at all from mental health.

But how can we continue to spread awareness for mental health and encourage people to start being nicer if tabloid press still produce celebrity gossip? Typically on how much weight someone weighs, whether they are wearing their wedding ring, or what they eat during the day.

Take a look at some of the tabloid headlines below that criticises a person for the way that they look, for what they are doing or may have said… These are the ‘normal’ headlines, not ones that have particularly been dug up to showcase my point. These are actually quite mild to some headlines that have been used in celebrity ‘news’.

It is easy to see how being in the public eye with so much pressure to do things ‘right’ that celebrities can often feel trapped, especially when these tabloid headlines coincide with internet trolls.

Take a look at some of the sports stories that have been printed by the British press. Ask yourself, what could these headlines do to the readers perception of these athletes and how could that effect not only a players mental health, but how it can provoke online abuse directed at that individual.

So what needs to happen?

If COVID-19 isolation can teach us one thing, it would be to start being nicer. Thousands of us have thanked the NHS, donated to care workers or phoned a friend to make sure they are ok.

One of the only ways for mental health illness figures to drop, or for suicide rates to decrease is if society starts excepting that no one is ever perfect. Being kind shouldn’t be something we strive to do, it should come naturally.

This relates back to rugby and every sport in many ways. Before you start shouting at a player because he has thrown a poor pass, missed a kick, given away a penalty or lost a match point, sit and think. This person is someones son, daughter, sister or brother. Would you like it if someone shouted abuse at you or your relation?

If you write abusive, racist, condescending messages on social media, sit and think again. If someone took to their keyboard the way that you do telling you that you are not good enough and should die, would you like it?

However, the public cannot take all the responsibility for deteriorating a public figure’s mental health. There needs to be a change on how tabloid media reports on sports personalities and celebrities. If this change doesn’t come, then we are in fear of living in a society that will never understand the effects that words can have on our mental health.

Ring-fencing, why give the IPA Championship no fight?

Ring-fencing for many seasons has been a much-debated topic within the Gallagher Premiership. Some argue that a tighter more invested league will benefit English rugby. Whilst some, like myself, believe that ring-fencing will only deteriorate the game and take away the competitiveness that is found within the sport. 

Before it was found that domestic and European champions, Saracens broke the salary cap for four consecutive seasons, there were cries that ring-fencing the Premiership would prevent clubs from over reaching beyond their means. 

However, now that the reigning champions have been automatically relegated at the end of this domestic season, the calls for ring-fencing have gone quiet. 

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Following Premiership Rugby selling a minority stake to equity firm CVC Capital Partners in late 2018, there were suggestions that the £200m jackpot would be spread across shareholders in 13 teams to create a new era for the elite English clubs. 

However, with the RFU announcing in February that they will be slashing the second-tier funding following the targets that were given to the league not being met.

This means clubs will see funding income fall from £534,000 to £288,00 per club, mimicking the funding figures from the 2015 season.

Many players start their rugby career in the Championship and blossom into the international or Premiership player that they are through the core values and skills they learn in the second devision.

The hashtag, #iplayedchampionshiprugby was started in response to the funding cuts to show the importance of the second-tier division. The success of the hashtag has been seen across social media, with many players calling for the RFU to change their decision.

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Some players return to the Championship to re-find the game and fall back in love with the reason they started playing rugby. This is something that Bristol Bears and former Wasps Hooker, Tom Lindsay spoke to me about.

“In the Championship I think player culture is the drive, that’s why you’re seeing so many players coming out of the woodwork and going Championship the best thing I ever did.

“Personally for me Championship gave me a year of playing rugby week in week out and fell in love with rugby again.”

Tom Lindsay, Bristol Bears

Many Championship clubs dream of entering into the Premiership and closing the door on their aspirations could cause upset across the Championship. Clubs such as the Cornish Pirates are fully committed to making the Premiership a near future goal. The Pirates are hoping to have a new ground by 2020 to ensure that when they do make their Premiership dream a reality they can meet the requirements with a 10,000-seater stadium. 

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Many former players and coaches have been vocal on where they stand in the ring-fencing debate. Former British and Irish Lion, Matt Dawson spoke on his BBC Radio 5 Live podcast about being in favour of the ring-fencing. He said: 

“For the welfare of players, it would extend their careers. I think they will play fewer games. Overall, we will have a better national side.

“At the moment, players are not played because of the risk of relegation” 

Matt Dawson, Former British and Irish Lion

Whilst current players, such as Saracens back-row Will Fraser spoke to BBC sport about his rejection for ring-fencing. He said: 

“If we want to keep generating young English players, we need to have the Championship as a league as a method and progression pathway for young players to use to come through to the Premiership.” 

Will Fraser, Saracens

I think that the stance on ring-fencing is very clear. If ring-fencing is in place then future Championship clubs will never be able to thrive in top flight English rugby, nor will they have the success of clubs such as Exeter and Bristol and bring excitement to their fans with their players, coaches and ability to put on an experience day, rather than just a rugby game. 

Why give the Championship no fight? They are the clubs bringing up the next generation that want a shot at the big stage. Who are we to stop clubs reaching their full potential?

What it’s been like to report on a university rugby team

Winners of Western 1A

Time has come to hand over my notepad and pen as the season is over for university rugby. It comes a couple weeks sooner than we all would have hoped for courtesy of COVID-19. But my goodness, what a three years it has been.

As a nervous Fresher I stood at The Folly to report on some of the third team fixtures following an email asking for students on my course to report on university sports.

My first year reporting didn’t feature many games as I started to settle into a new way of life, living away from home and adapting to university lifestyles.

Fast forward to my second year and I started to find my feet and introduce myself to Director of Rugby, Chris Downes and embark on reporting on the first team fixtures.

It was during my second season of reporting that the first team were promoted from Western 1A into Prem B in comfortable style and claimed their fourth consecutive varsity win against Worcester University and what a varsity it was.

Throughout that season, all home games were attended and even an away trip to Cardiff with my housemate helped me in building my confidence in reporting and gain more work for my portfolio.

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There were 14 men for the final quarter of the varsity fixture and the scores were all level at 13 all at half time. The sheer belief and determination that the boys in blue showed in the final 20 minutes was something spectacular, and they earned themselves a 14 point cushion. As the game played on it was clear that despite their red card, the result was only heading one way and that was Gloucestershire’s as they claimed a 41-30 victory.

If you have been to university and followed a sports team and experienced varsity then you will understand the electric atmosphere that runs throughout the players, squad, supporters, everyone.

For at least 80 minutes, everyone is incapsulated in the game, enjoying life and forgetting any of their troubles or dissertations they need to submit the next day. This year due to COVID-19 varsity has been postponed and is unlikely to take place in the near future. Although I don’t play, me along with so many others are saddened at missing out on making these memories that last a lifetime.

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In my final season, things got slightly more difficult as the 1XV struggled in their new league, but nevertheless, the determination and desire was still alive within the players.

This season has certainly been a contrast to last year’s from reporting on the ultimate highs to have some tough games to recover from. The experiences that I have had and the lessons I’ve learnt about reporting on a rugby team will stay with me throughout my journalism career.

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University rugby is like no other. Trying to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced the atmosphere is hard. Though I haven’t played the game, going to fixtures every Wednesday has made me feel part of a team like no other.

It has had its highs and lows, from a nervous Fresher scared to ask for an interview to being the first person on the pitch after the final whistle to get the match reaction. But one thing is for sure, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

So, to everyone I have interviewed or those I begged to hold my phone to record the interviews, thank you. Reporting on UGRFC has been the best thing I have done throughout my three years at university and I will always, always remember it.

Call me old fashioned, but I preferred rugby before all the rumours

If you take a moment to stop and think when was the last time we had a rugby season in which potential transfers were only rumoured towards the back end of the season, starting in around March and April?

Over the last five seasons, more players are singing contacts sooner or rumours are appearing quicker. There are always going to be rumoured transfers in any sport, but I feel that rugby is at risk of turning into January transfer market all year round.  

Just this week, Wasps and Joe Launchbury released a statement confirming the England international was staying at the Coventry club after a 24-hour period of Twitter speculating his next move, supposedly to Sale. All this hype and energy for nothing.

The clubs are the ones keeping it professional still, with players not being announced to have signed until the ink dries on the paper. This leaves the media industry and the world of social media to take the fall of so many rumours. 

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I completely understand the excitement around potential reports of a player signing for a new club, Launchbury was supposedly moving to Sale and that would have been a prosperous signing for them but surely the clubs should be the ones to first announce rather than anyone else. The anticipation within club singings is slowly slipping away. 

I can remember a time as a young fan where I would be so exciting near the end of the season to see who had signed for my club. But now, there is little excitement around the big names in rugby because everyone seems to know where they will be playing rugby next season before they do. Take Elliot Daly as an example. Everything that has come out of transfer rumours is that he has pretty much put pen to paper on a contact that sees him move to Saracens next season. If it’s true, great. But why not let Saracens break the news. If not, why go to all this time and effort for nothing. Neither Wasps, Saracens or Daly have said anything, so why not assume he is still going to be playing rugby with Wasps next season. 

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Why put the pressure on a player to say where he is playing rugby before he is ready or before the deal is done? I recall a pre-match interview with Dai Youngs earlier this season, not one question was asked about the match in hand the questions were all about the Daly situation and as someone watching a pre-match interview, I would quite like to know what the DOR is thinking about that match.

By no means am I suggest club transfer rumours stop. The rumours add something to social media and add another aspect for supporters to talk about, but my point is why go to the extent that the excitement is taken away when clubs sign a big named player. 

Maybe it is my nostalgia taking over, but I miss the days where rugby had more player secrets. 

What people seem to be missing about Joe Marler’s retirement from international rugby

*please note this article contains some strong language*

Joe Marler has 59 England caps to his name, made his debut against South Africa in the summer of 2009 and coincidently has played his final game in an England shirt against the Bok’s during this summer’s tour.

Last week the Harlequins prop announced his retirement from international rugby with just under a year to go until the Rugby World Cup. The announcement shocked the rugby community and in an interview with ‘The Rugby Pod’ earlier this week, he admitted that he used to go looking for yellow and red cards around the time of the international periods.

That is what nearly every paper has portrayed, however, if you listen carefully it is actually the anxiety of playing international rugby that leads to erratic behaviour on the field of play.

There is no doubt that playing for your country is one of the greatest honours in any sport. But unless you are a professional athlete no one knows the impact it can have on both yourself and your family, which is something Marler alluded to when he spoke to the pod:

“I’ve just had enough, I’ve got a young family, I’ve enjoyed my time with England but family is my priority. As soon as I had kids my perspective changed.”

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Marler was more than certain to travel with the England squad to Japan for the World Cup next year and was looking to make a minimum of £400,000 just from international matches, but he says that money isn’t everything:

“You can’t buy back the years and parents evenings you have been missing out on.

“My drive is to be a family and play for my club, I couldn’t do both (international and domestic).

“You don’t get to see your family; people forget about the highs and lows.

“It hasn’t felt that hard, it hasn’t felt like a big decision for me because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and it was probably pre- South Africa that I made my mind up.”


To retire from international rugby to spend more time with your family isn’t uncommon and is laudable and that reason wasn’t what caused upset earlier this week, it was the comments about receiving yellow and red cards and picking up bans around the international period.

What has been reported about Marler has been taken completely out of context. Never in the interview did he say that he wanted to or purposely tried to get himself a ban; which he has backed himself via Twitter following the podcast.

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What he actually said was that the anxiety that surrounds playing for England and the commitment, time away from family and the expectation would all get too much and how he played would consequently spiral out of control:

“The anxiety I would get about having to leave and go away again would start to manifest itself in giving away even more daft penalties and looking for outs, looking for red cards, looking for a yellow, because if I could pick up a ban then that is a way out without pulling the trigger”

Mental health within sport, especially rugby given its tough exterior has only started to be properly spoken about in the last five/six years. The effect that professional sport and the pressures that come with it can have a harrowing effect on the body both physically and mentally. Although Marler hasn’t openly said he is a sufferer of anxiety he has said that anxiety would be a reasoning to his behaviour to spiral:

“I can’t keep doing this rollercoaster and it is not fair on my family or the club to go hang on a minute a week ago he’s playing well for us and not knowing when he’s going to play like a twat again”

Marler certainly has a good 4 seasons left playing for his beloved club and will defiantly be reaching the 200-appearance mark by Christmas. His comments about his play can be taken as being rather poor from a sportsman or can be viewed with a touch of empathy for a player who has found playing for his country mentally harder than what meets the eye.

Why Brad Shields shouldn’t play for England this summer

I, like the majority, was looking forward to Brad Shields fitting into his new home at Wasps and settling into Northern Hemisphere ways, both in life and rugby and then with the possibility of him playing rugby for the country in the Autumn Internationals.

When he got fast-tracked into the England squad ahead of their series tour against South Africa I was slightly sceptical but given the little selection of flankers, Eddie Jones has chosen I was optimistic, however, having reflected on his inclusion into the summer squad my views on the matter have changed.

World Rugby rules state that a player can play for their ‘country’ given that the abide by one of the three options and Shields qualifies for an England shirt via option two with both his parents being born in England before they emigrated to New Zealand whilst they were both in their childhood.

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The RFU however, adopted an overseas player’s policy that was put under place to ensure that English talent was kept in the premiership to avoid the best players playing rugby outside the country, consequently meaning that the England eligibility rules state that Jones can only select players that are based in England and can only select a player playing overseas in exceptional circumstances (the main circumstance being that there are no players in England that could play the position needed by the foreign-based player).

So, there should be no problem with Jones selecting Shields due to him being based at Wasps at the start of the new season. However, the Super-Rugby season in the southern hemisphere is yet to finish and following the tour to South Africa, Shields will fly over 7,000 miles back to New Zealand to see out the season as captain of the Highlanders. So technically he isn’t yet based in England.

The RFU governing body is now under fire for selecting Shields for the summer tour and Vice Chairman of World Rugby, Agustin Pichot claimed that “the game is losing something” by the selection of Shields.

Shields was never capped by the All Blacks but featured in the junior IRB championship in 2011 and played against some of his now England teammates. But All Black head coach Steve Hansen earlier this month said that Shields would have probably been selected for New Zealand had he not pledged his international future overseas.

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With Shields, only being in the England squad just six days before he is set to make his debut it is hard to believe that the New Zealander can full be aware of the core values to English rugby and whether Eddie Jones has also fully understood the essence of English rugby.

Shields’ performance this summer with either be the perfect fit for the national side or be a repeat of the Sam Burgess saga.