The Saracens star who has made a supreme breakthrough over the last two seasons, led Saracens to the Anglo Welsh Cup back in 2015 (see main photo). Known then as the LV Cup, it put his name out in the public domain, before regularly appearing in their first XV Saries team. Now the feature forward and the man that Saracens will build their team around. With 14 England caps and 3 British and Irish Lions appearances to his credit, he is certainly a star now, and a superstar for the future.
Euro POTY ’16
Six Nations Grand Slam
Six Nations title
Premiership x 2
Champions Cup x 2
He’s 22 pic.twitter.com/3Ly9OoZx8m
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) May 13, 2017
The second row forward had no issue in stepping up from the AW Cup to the Aviva Premiership, proving that it can indeed be ‘a birthplace for rugby stars’ despite it decreasing in value over recent years (in terms of development).
Itoje is well regarded as the best forward in World Rugby – missing out on the coveted International Player of the Year award to Beauden Barrett. Many believe he can perhaps hold that description, from being given a chance in the 2015 AW Cup, before being promoted to the first team. A monumental rise, from Under 20 status to being a man who can influence the outcome of an International test match.
The 23 year old, who ‘rocked the rugby world’ back in 2016, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, but surely proving that you can do something special, if given an opportunity. Itoje’s came via the AW Cup, and the player acknowledges that pathway often.
Rugby clubs view Anglo Welsh Cup as valuable prize
With European cups becoming more and more fought over by the richer European clubs, the Aviva Premiership is not guaranteed that a UK club will reign over the continent. Saracens have, but recent history suggests the silverware on offer is usually back in English competition Knowing this, the Anglo Welsh Cup has turned to be the focus of many English sides, as a high-chance of silverware.
This has meant to a degree, a loss of the developmental platform for those who remain using it as such. The Welsh sides and some of the poorer English sides have placed a higher value on development factor, rather than the prize on offer. (LWOR use the term ‘poorer’ loosely)
These clubs put their developmental or U23 sides out; some will also use the AW Cup for players returning from injury, only to face a ‘de facto premier’ squad that would compete well in Europe’s top tier. Hardly a fair comparison or platform to work with. Looking at the current standings, the leading sides reflect their strengths of the Premiership squads–less about developing the wider base across the league.
Future of AW Cup may need changes to Structure
To better reflect the marketing phrase ‘Old Rivals, New Heroes’ the Anglo Welsh Cup may need changes to the structure. English teams appear to be strongest, and while that is to do with the larger pool of talent, it can also be in that their academies and development managers are fully focused on the entire organization. Lesser teams focus from the top down, and never see the AW Cup as the step-up that it should be.
Possibly, the AW Cup gets scrapped and the WRU alongside the RFU, PRL and PRW get together and develop a season of A league fixtures. Crucially, ruling only players Under 23 be eligible, with a possibility of a 3 ‘over aged’ players added in as a quota for the returning wounded.
It would provide a thorough development competition, including a televised platform and a fair competition which can provide the next generation of athletes. In respect of the three players highlighted, and the 169 players who used the AW Cup as the means to step-up, the ethos of the competition will never change.
And long may it continue.