Ian Barnes believes ethos of the B&I Cup can be revived

Ian Barnes
Ian Barnes
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One of the architects of the British and Irish rugby cup is calling for a replacement tournament catering for domestic league teams.

Scottish Rugby bosses have announced that they are withdrawing their four qualifiers next season after discussions with the Premiership umbrella organisation and claiming changes in the fixture programming would have an adverse effect on the “integrity” of the BT League.

Ian Barnes served as a Premiership representative on the SRU when the Cup was introduced five seasons ago and he admits things haven’t gone as envisaged.

“I thought the B&I Cup would be for genuine club sides but then provincial second teams began to be entered and England’s Championship proved to be a level above what was expected,” said Barnes.

“I travelled with Heriot’s in the first season and when visiting Bristol they played out of their skins against professional opposition without ever looking likely to win.

“I recall Heriot’s players enjoying the challenge but competition was so tough that from a Scottish point of view, with clubs sides being entered, I understand the B&I Cup wasn’t working.

“Nevertheless Ayr did particularly well in that first season and others have achieved a good result so there is a case for some sort of cross-border competition maybe between Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“I’m convinced the Scottish and Irish premiership sides are on a par and the Welsh could settle into the format.”

Ireland were first to opt for professional second strings which left Currie facing Ulster professionals a few seasons ago.

Barnes said: “I got the impression the Irish did not want their clubs involved but there is still a case for creating incentives to play cross-border at premiership level.”

What cannot be underestimated is the extra interest created in Scotland’s top tier by the battle for a top-four finish and qualification especially if the title or relegation is decided early.

From 2015-16 the new European set-up will include a third tier competition but some believe that the SRU have already started paving the way for district entries at the expense of their clubs, operating alongside teams from Romania, Spain, Georgia etc.

It is also possible that the annual plethora of seven-a-side tournaments in Scotland are restricting opportunities for developing 15-a-sides which continue to have priority elsewhere during April and May.

Barnes, a former internationalist out of the Hawick club and coach of various Lothians teams including Heriot’s, Edinburgh Accies, Stewart’s Melville, North Berwick and Edinburgh University, insists sevens have their place.

But he admits: “Things were working well when there were three early-season sevens tournaments and five at the end.

“Now there are two sevens tournaments every weekend at season’s end. Why not play some sevens in the summer?”

Announcing the withdrawal SRU director of rugby operations, Colin Thomson, said: “Discussions over the competition structure have been difficult and protracted and we have done everything in our power to try to influence a solution that would meet the needs of all participants.

“Regrettably, this has not been achieved and The B&I Cup pool dates have been set for two blocks of three fixtures either side of the autumn international window.

“We simply could not support six B&I cup games in the first half of the season as this would have a significant impact on the integrity of our own BT Premiership competition.”