The Daily Mail Cup is an annual rugby union competition with all English, rugby playing schools competing. The competition fields 515 teams and 544 teams in the U’18’s and U15’s respectively. With the finals of all competitions, including the Vase which is for teams knocked out in the earlier rounds, being played at Twickenham, this tournament has been seen traditionally to be a great opportunity for talented youth of England to prepare for the grand stage in their time at school.
So should such a prestigious event not be like that of the great tournaments that we have come to know from the professional game? The tournament begins after the Christmas holidays in the latter half of the school year. At this time many schools drop rugby as their main focus, hockey and football the usual replacements. Similarly, before Christmas, a schools fixture list is dominated by friendlies. So perhaps the tournament should take a front seat role in the school calendar with fixtures being played before Christmas as block Saturday games. For this to work well, the format would have to change to a similar style as the Champions League. Yet why would this be a problem? Clearly the best tournament in Europe for football is a very successful competition.
If this were to work the teams would have to be separated by region into groups and then play each other home and away which would definitely take away the ‘home advantage’. The scores would then be recorded similar to that of the Heineken Cup (the European rugby union competition) which evidently would definitely encourage free flowing rugby with the bonus points system rewarding scoring four or more tries. So, surely, this would be a better way to improve school rugby and enthusiasm for school rugby as there would always be a goal in terms of silver wear later in the season.
Maybe problems like the repetition of matches in groups could be an issue. Yet the groups could be randomly assigned if that was the case. Schools travel long distances for friendlies anyway so if placed into the group when they had to travel for one game further than usual would clearly not be a problem. Or maybe the fact that some teams may have to qualify for the competition could be an issue, but if 515 teams can play each other and get to a knock-out stage in a school term, it seems logical that the teams can play each other twice in the lower stages throughout the year doesn’t it?
So this opportunity especially for the smaller schools to be able to play strong sides would definitely increase the rugby development and the desire for rugby development. And, as a result, this new found enthusiasm for rugby would certainly burst onto the representative level and in time would affect the England side itself with new young talent; perhaps even more than has been shown within the last year.