So what do you do when your best players are away playing international rugby? You hold a cup competition that doesn’t bring in much cash and has no extra reward of winning it. Welcome to the unloved LC= Cup.
How does it work?
The LV= Cup has unique system, there are 4 groups of 4 teams where you play all 4 teams from one of the other groups. So basically you are competing against teams that you don’t get to play. The top team from the 4 groups go into the semifinals.
Of cause this being northern hemisphere rugby politics has to get in the way. The Pro12 doesn’t take this competition into account and so the Welsh clubs aren’t involved in the opening weekend as they are playing Pro12 games. So the Welsh teams will actually play the round 2 games before they play the round 1 games. It’s the kind of thing that you wouldn’t make up.
OK well let’s just try to enjoy the rugby
Bath Rugby Gloucester Rugby Newport Gwent Dragons Saracens
Pool 1 will play against pool 4, so when looking at the match ups you need to memorize these clubs then scroll down to the bottom.
This tournament can be a bit of a lottery as teams rest their leading stars and it’s used as a development tournament. Secondly as you only play each team once the draw can have an influence as some teams are much better at home than away.
I’m going to go with this being a battle between Saracens and Gloucester as they have away fixtures against London Welsh. At the moment that’s a free win and means that they get 2 more difficult games in front of their home crowds rather than just 1. I want to go with Gloucester but they are up against Exeter who are one of their bogy teams, so I’m backing Saracens to top the group.
Bath’s saving grace in this is that they are up against Exeter and they have only lost once to them in recent years. Now that was in the semifinal of this competition last year but I think that record will still play on their minds. So as one of the away games is down in Sandy Park Bath are still in with a hope even though their away form has been patchy.
With Dragons being the weakest of the Welsh regions I can’t see them winning enough games to top the group.
Cardiff Blues London Irish Northampton Saints Sale Sharks
Pool 2 will play pool 3 so there isn’t quite as much scrolling.
As said before this tournament is in some ways a test of squad depth or academy quality as normal starters are rested. So normally I would look to see who had to travel to play Wasps as their home form as been much better. However with Wasps thin squad they will definitely be resting players as they are in the Champions Cup which doesn’t offer any respite.
Looking at the teams in pools 2 and 3 there are no others that jump out as having obvious home/away differences than normal.
Saints made the final last year and so clearly have form in this competition, they are also the strongest team from the group and so are the obvious favourites.
Sale will be using this tournament to rest as many player as possible. In a horror group in the Challenge Cup this is the only opportunity they have in this season. So I can’t see Sale having the depth to progress in this competition.
Cardiff have had a shocker of a start to the season in the Pro12 but have won their first 2 Challenge Cup games. So it’s anyones guess how they are going to go. Personally I don’t think that they will top the group but it’s nothing more scientific than that.
Irish have history of producing good academy graduates but then losing them to other teams. Here we may get to see the next crop, add to that they are also in the Challenge Cup so can rest players then. This means that they may be able to inject more experience along with those academy players and so for this reason I’m going for Irish to progress from this group.
Leicester Tigers Newcastle Falcons Scarlets Wasps
Scarlets and Tigers are battling each other again but the tournament rules keep them from playing each other. With Tigers injury issues and them needing to rest some players my guess is that they will have a poor start in this competition. With only 4 games there will be no time to catchup.
Wasps have already talked about the issues with fighting on two fronts. Well those two fronts are the Premiership and Champions Cup not this competition. So with their focus elsewhere Wasps aren’t going to progress.
That leaves Falcons and Scarlets, Falcons are wining for fun now with 4 on the trot but with Saints next up that could be coming to end soon. Last season not one Welsh team qualified, well I’m going to have a pop that Scarlets could get through this time.
Exeter Chiefs Harlequins London Welsh Ospreys
In pool 4 I can’t see Welsh putting together the 3 or 4 wins needed to progress. So it’s a question of who out of the rest will go through.
Will it be the current champions in the form of Exeter or Quins the perennial top four team or Ospreys who top the Pro12? It’s going to come down to who takes the tournament the most seriously.
Exeter in the past have brought through their academy graduates using this competition. As they have now come through and are getting selected for England I think that there will be more resting of players and so not the results.
Ospreys are topping the Pro12 and are going to be putting everything into that. As they are in the Champions Cup this is their only resting time. So I’m going for Quins to progress as the team that is most used to fighting on multiple fronts.
So I’m going for Saracens, Irish, Scarlets and Quins but I’m sure there will be some surprises on the way.