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What can we expect to see from the Allianz Cup?

By Stella Mills
Sale wing Lisa Neuman is congratulated by team mates after scoring during the Allianz Premier 15s between Darlington Mowden Park Sharks and Sale Sharks Women (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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As the Allianz Premier 15s season breaks for the Autumn Internationals, fans are slowly being introduced to a new competition, The Allianz Cup, which sees teams being split into two pools of five, based on last season’s rankings.

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In total, the competition includes five rounds, with each club getting the opportunity to play each other once in two home games and two away games.

I use the word slowly purposefully, as many have come out to criticise the overall promotion and marketing of the new competition. Taking a quick glance to social media, it seems that fans are getting increasingly frustrated with being drip fed information regarding fixture times and locations.

For this to be deemed as a success, the Cup needs to be branded and understood exactly for what it was intended to be, a developmental competition. This Cup isn’t especially for the fans, it’s for the players. This competition will enable the league to move forwards in the future and we must be realistic in our expectations over the coming weeks.

So, why is it necessary? If you look back at previous fixtures, its clear to see certain teams are getting left behind. It can’t be easy for the likes of DMP to walk away from a match being beaten 115 –0 by Bristol Bears. Not only is this a tough pill to swallow for players but looking at it from a streaming perspective it isn’t going to get broadcasters queuing up to cover the league. The Allianz Premier 15s competition needs to be as marketable as possible, and that starts with consistent competitive matches, right across the board.

This is where the Cup comes in. With most club’s big hitters away at various international training camps, less experienced players will have the opportunity to step up to the mark and develop their skillset. Player development can only reach a certain standard outside of game time, the best way for new talent to come through is for them to gain real playing experience.

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If you look over to Bristol Bears, who are currently sitting top of the table, they have lost 15 players out of their squad to international camps. With players like Amber Reed, Leanne Infante (Riley) and Abbie Ward being unavailable, this leaves huge shoes to fill, and could be a constructive learning opportunity for those players often not given game time.

Speaking exclusively to RugbyPass, Bristol Bears Women’s head coach Dave Ward said:

“Lucy Burgess will be captaining the team and is arguably one of the best nines in the league but due to being in constant competition with Keira Bevan and Leanne Infante, rarely gets a chance to showcase her skills. The Cup presents a great opportunity for her to get her first start of the season.”

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He continued onto say: “I’m also looking forward to seeing England U20’s Gabriella Nigrelli get her first start in a Bears shirt, as well as seeing Ella Lovibond come back from injury too.”

The RFU have today confirmed that they have no plans to stream the Allianz Cup. No doubt this will be taken as bad news by some, as fans will be frustrated at the lack of live streams available. For once, I agree with the decision not to stream the games. The whole Cup needs to be seen and framed as a developmental competition for the future of the league as a whole.

I am in no way suggesting we should write the Cup off and not give it the time of day, but we must understand that this is an opportunity to build talent from the ground up. This shouldn’t be sold and marketed as a grand spectacle, especially with most big names who have traditionally drawn in fans being out of the picture.

From a marketing perspective, the RFU’s decision to not commit resources to streaming the Cup was a sensible decision. I am not doubting the players ability to put on a show, but we must take into account that the highest level of talent has been taken out of clubs, and therefore there may be a period of adaptation.

The long-term success of the league depends on player development, it always has. The creation of this Cup can be a positive if the expectations are set accordingly. We often struggle to fill one stand on a usual Saturday game in the Premier 15’s. If we are to sell women’s rugby to a wider audience, we must be broadcasting the highest level of talent available.

Ultimately, the new competition provides an opportunity for players to test out their skills under real pressure, without being in the shadow of big names who often steal the spotlight. Hopefully, when given the chance, these younger players will prove that they can earn a spot on the team sheet for good.

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