By Monkey1
February 7 2017

  Newcastle Falcons kissed goodbye to any hopes of glory in the European Challenge Cup on Friday 13th January with defeat away in Grenoble, but perhaps it died on the very first day, way back in October with a 45 – 0 drubbing by Ospreys. We are also out of the Anglo welsh cup and were able to approach the game against Bath with only entertainment and player development in mind. The big question in a season when our Premiership form is looking better than for many years is do we really care?  

It appears that I don’t care, having arranged to be away so that I missed the home game against Ospreys, and then choosing the Scotland v Ireland game at Murrayfield instead of watching the win over Bath. I would quite enjoy watching a pointless game where we have nothing to lose, nothing to play for except pride, and can just have fun, but not if I have something better to do, which probably explains the low crowds at cup games. Lots of people like myself simply find they have better things to do with their limited leisure time, and until the cup games become more important as part of our season this will always be the case.


Most of the nails were hammered into the Challenge Cup coffin on day one when we fielded our usual mix of juniors, less experienced players, and a few more senior heads to hold it all together. This in my own old fashioned opinion is what these cup games are all about, a chance to get the more junior players some game time, assisted by some returning from injury, and enough experienced players so that the juniors will learn in a competitive environment.


That theory works just fine as long as the opposition aim for the same values. When the Ospreys team was announced, with from memory 13 of the starting 15 being internationals, it was obvious that this game was lost before it even started. As Jeeves would put it “It’s not the done thing sir.” The next game saw a reversal of fortunes, Falcons spanking Grenoble 50 – 7 at Kingston Park.


I never take much enjoyment from such one-sided games, whether we win or lose. Just my personal view I suppose, but these cup games really are more about the taking part that they are about the results. Giving opportunities to players in a genuinely competitive environment is what I see as the main value of these games, and you have to question how much value our players got from either of those one-sided games?


I have to be honest, the actual cup competition doesn’t mean much to me, and I am not that bothered about missing games. What I do enjoy however is seeing players who don’t feature in our regular league games, especially our home-grown players for the future. I remember many years ago seeing a young player called Toby Flood make his Falcons debut in just such a game, and having followed his fortunes when he was a sensational player for Morpeth, it was a great pleasure to see him at Kingston Park. You just don’t get that sort of thing happening in league games, the stakes are too high to risk fielding inexperienced players. If those players don’t get experience however, they will never become experienced. Cup games have a tremendous value in this respect.


There has been much discussion about the format and value of the cup competitions, especially the insane idea of playing teams who are not in your pool, that is just mad. Among those discussions have been some sound suggestions about alternative approaches to the cup competitions. I would like to think that those in charge will detect the utter lack of interest in the games from clubs, sponsors and supporters, and they will actually do something about it. If they get the format right they could create a very valuable competition, appreciated by everyone, and eminently watchable.


There really is potential to organise something special, a genuinely good companion to the Champions Cup rather than what we have now which is very much a side show. There have been some excellent suggestions on the message board about ways to make this work, such as some sort of limit to the number of players allowed who have international experience, or a limit set by number of league appearances. Age limits won’t work, and you don’t want to exclude all senior players as the juniors need them there to learn from, but there must surely be a reasonably workable format which will prevent imbalance such as we saw against Ospreys (A) & Grenoble (H). If the cup games could become genuinely competitive games featuring mainly developing players, then I for one would stop doing other things and would turn up at KP to watch.