LV= Cup 2014: Three talking points as Saracens & Saints win
LV= Cup 2014: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens takes a look at three talking points as Saracens & Saints win
Premiership strength in depth
The English clubs may have lost a lot of their stars to Six Nations squads, but Aviva Premiership front-runners Saracens and Northampton Saints showcased their strength in depth this weekend as they recorded bonus-point wins against Newcastle Falcons and Newport Gwent Dragons respectively to reach the semi-finals. The Saints forwards dominated the Dragons in a 34-16 win, with hooker Mike Haywood, tight-head prop Gareth Denman and No8 GJ van Velze dotting down, the pack also securing a penalty try. Saracens/Bedford dual registration trio Jackson Wray (2), Ben Ransom and Tom Jubb all went over as the Aviva Premiership leaders won 41-8 at Allianz Park. Bath also reached the semi-finals with a four-try 24-13 win over Cardiff Blues as their superior driving maul was too much for a Blues side weakened by international call-ups and a significant injury list. Bath flanker Alafoti Fa’osilva and scrum-half Micky Young went over in the first half with Gavin Henson also coming off the bench to score against his former side.
Under the weather
Tempestuous weather in west London and south Wales took its toll on the LV= Cup this weekend as Rodney Parade and The Stoop were singled out for some special treatment. Dragons’ outside-half Jason Tovey braved a hailstorm to attempt a kick at goal five minutes before the break in Newport and saw his effort sucked up by the wind and skewed wide and short. As the players and officials raced away to safety with the match halted, Mother Nature kindly stepped up to give the already heavy pitch a proper soaking in their short absence. Wellies and wet suits would have been more appropriate attire on their return and in a second half which saw the players sloshing through giant puddles down the flanks and inside the 22 on a pitch those of a sensitive disposition would deem unplayable, but the majority of weekend warriors can’t get enough of. Saturday’s match between Harlequins and Leicester at The Stoop enjoyed similar good weather, but came off worse as the match was abandoned after 71 minutes as “parts of the stadium were blown onto the field of play” by gale-force winds. While that leads to interesting images of what these “parts” could be (unfortunately just advertising hoardings and assorted debris), health and safety won the day with reigning champions Quins 20-6 up and on course for their first win in the competition this year and Leicester looking to reach the semis. Rather than make the sides replay the match, the Tournament Organising Committee let the result stand.
The former English cup competition may have become the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2006 when the Welsh regions joined the RFU club competition, better known under various sponsorship guises such as its current branding as the LV= Cup, but the last time a Welsh side reached the final was in 2009 as Cardiff Blues won 50-12 against Gloucester. In fact, a Welsh region participated in each final from 2006 to 2009 with the Ospreys beating Leicester 23-7 in 2005 to avenge a 41-35 defeat the year before, but the last four finals have been an all English affair and this year’s final looks to be heading the same way. The competition may see most teams these days opt to field fringe and development players, but it doesn’t give the best impression of Welsh regions competing against English clubs as talks continue about the regions possibly joining the Aviva Premiership as the European rugby fallout continues. It could be argued that the regions don’t have it easy given they are each placed in a group with three English clubs. A better solution may be to have the four regions in one pool, which would stir up more interest in the competition in south Wales and guarantee a Welsh side a chance of making the final. Such a proposal, however, would likely see more competition to it happening than has been seen in the tournament for some time.