BY RICHARD MILLS
England legend Lewis Moody would ‘love’ to have an FA Cup equivalent in rugby but admits it would be too big a safety risk..
Former England Rugby captain Moody wishes underdogs many leagues below the likes of Saracens, Leicester Tigers, and Bath could compete against one another – like they could in years gone by.
Although for players in lower leagues it would be the ‘highlight of their careers’ to play international stars, Moody says it is not safe anymore.
And as players have got bigger, stronger and fitter since the sport turned professional in 1995, he says an FA Cup is unlikely as the divide between the leagues is only widening.
“I love the idea (of having an FA Cup in rugby). I love looking at the FA Cup and seeing an underdog prevail against a mighty team,” he said.
“But football is so different to rugby. I just don’t think you could risk it.
“For players in the lower leagues, it would be a highlight of their careers playing against internationals.
“There used to be an FA Cup equivalent in rugby as there was the John Player Cup (1976-88), Pilkington Cup (1989-97), the Tetley’s Bitter Cup (1998-’00) and the Powergen Cup (2001-05).
“There were more than 60 teams from many different leagues competing then.
“I remember playing League One team Newbury and we beat them by 50 points soon after the onset of professionalism.
“That gap between the leagues has only widened since then. It is just not physically practical anymore. It would put players at risk.
“The sheer physical size, power, and ability to generate force that the Premiership players bring to the pitch would mean a very one-sided contest against lower league teams and it would make it very dangerous.
“Football can get away with it because it is more fitness and skill, whereas rugby relies heavily on power. I think that is sadly why it (a multi-league cup competition) disappeared from the game.
“I do think it is a shame because it was wonderful to play in.”
The ex-Leicester and Bath player says it would be particularly dangerous for lower league teams to face the top sides in the scrum, at the breakdown and with tackling.
“You may get 20-stone men in the lower leagues but they can’t generate the explosive power that the top guys do for 80 minutes,” he said.
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“The scrums would be significant, as would the breakdown and with tackling.
“Trying to clear out an 18-20 stone Samoan from a ruck, there is only going to be one outcome for me.
“I think since 2003 the size of players has steadily increased. But in the last 10 years or so there has been a big change.
“When I started out in 1996, I only had the physical education I had used at school.
“I had not been through an academy program. I was a boy in a man’s world. Now there are physical specimens at 16-18.
“In some ways, it is a shame the game has developed so quickly and moved along so fast.
“But also in many ways, it is also very exciting as at the top level we get to see the most incredible spectacle.
“You will always get anomalies like Shane Williams and Marcus Smith – the guys that are slightly smaller but develop an incredible skill set to adapt to play in and around those big guys.
“But many don’t have the training or capabilities. So if you went down that route (an FA Cup) there could be a major incident.
“A team could get decimated by a serious injury or ship 100 points, I don’t know how beneficial that is to anyone.”
Congratulations Newport County. There is something very special about the romance of the FA Cup. That’s one of the things I miss in rugby since the game went pro. No more big occassions for the village minnow clubs against the big guns. Really is such a shame. https://t.co/cG5gRgDxD8— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) January 6, 2019
In 2005-06, the Powergen Cup was replaced by the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
The many teams in the lower leagues, such as Cleckheaton, West Park St Helens and Dudley Kingswinford, among others, played no further part in the competition.
Just 16 teams made up this new-look competition, the 12 Premiership teams and the four regional Welsh clubs and thus, the multi-league cup was no more.
Moody still believes another cup competition could be introduced, however.
“There could potentially be a cup in the top two or three leagues. It could be a way of engaging more people across the country,” he said.
“Exeter were in the league below and came up with great success but London Welsh experienced diabolical results.
“But it could spread that rugby love. You could introduce a multi-league cup in sevens and touch rugby.
“You have the national touch teams and you could have some of them playing the local club teams. I could see that working.”