Show the university game some love, argues University of Leeds student William Heaver
Rugby Rant: Uni rugby deserves more respect
BUCS SUPER RUGBY has slowly been growing in standard and notoriety. The sheer amount of university players playing in the Premiership Rugby Cup this term shows the high standard of competition and that there is genuine depth.
Christ Tshiunza, who made his debut for Wales in the autumn, has been playing consistently on a Wednesday for Exeter University. England stars Alex Dombrandt and Freddie Steward played for Cardiff Met and Loughborough University respectively. Thibaud Flament is another prime example of university rugby proving to be a good place for players to develop. Flament arrived at Loughborough as a fly-half, left as a lock and is now a France international.
It’s not just the standard of rugby that makes it a great competition but also the geography of the teams that play in the Super League, along with the crowds that are drawn without widespread advertisement. Top northern university sides are plentiful, with Durham, Northumbria and Leeds Beckett all competing in Super Rugby. Then with Cardiff, Cardiff Met and Swansea, there is strong Welsh interest.
So how do BUCS take this competition to the next level? They should start by trying to get more games streamed. Bath v Exeter achieved 15,000 views in November, so the demand is there for games to be seen on a bigger platform. Matches are mostly on a Wednesday, so don’t clash with the Premiership and wouldn’t really battle viewership from other sports either. These teams already have loyal fan bases and can create partisan atmospheres for their home sides. Attendances at Durham, Bath and Hartpury regularly reach 1,000.
Furthermore, it provides an alternative route to the elite game for players where they can socialise and enjoy themselves, instead of being potentially stifled in the environments created by pro clubs.
There is a template for success in America, with college football and basketball some of the most viewed and hotly-contested sporting events in the country. While it’s unlikely that university rugby would reach the size of US collegiate sports, there is definitely a niche in the UK sports market that a mainstream company could take advantage of whilst helping to grow the game. Also, unlike American college football, BUCS Super Rugby also has a women’s competition, which features international-standard players.
Overall, university rugby as a product is enjoyable to watch and has a great chance to grow exponentially. It is the sport’s sleeping giant.
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