Saracens know the value of Anglo-Welsh Cup as young stars show their potential
- Credit: Matt Impey / wiredphotos.co.uk
The Anglo-Welsh Cup is a competition where clubs’ rising stars are born and should therefore be hailed as one of the most significant in the domestic rugby calendar.
It sets the stage for young academy players to take a leading role in representing their teams.
The youngsters make the tournament their own and young shoulders have to take on new responsibility, honing their leadership skills and forcing them to perform under pressure.
However, the tournament is seemingly dropping further down the clubs’ list of priorities, falling behind the European competitions as well as the Premiership and Pro12.
Reigning champions Saracens frequently integrate their young players into the biggest competitions to better prepare them as they develop their careers – and the holders moved another step closer to defending their Anglo-Welsh Cup title with a resounding bonus-point win against Scarlets at the Parc y Scarlets last Friday night.
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The 32-17 victory catapulted the Hendon-based club into top spot in Pool One ahead of close rivals Northampton Saints, who lost ground following their defeat to Leicester Tigers.
The Anglo-Welsh Cup has given the likes of Maro Itoje, Nick Tompkins and Jamie George valuable experience and helped them become the players they are today. Starting out in the competition as relative unknowns, they have matured and developed into world-class players competing at the highest level.
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Centre Tompkins has produced some of his finest performances at the club lately, most notably in the Champions Cup matches against Scarlets and Toulon at Allianz Park.
But it was in the Anglo-Welsh Cup that the 21-year-old began to make a name for himself, and it is inevitable that Sarries’ current crop of young players will follow suit.
This season, newcomers Tom Whiteley, Tom Griffiths and Max Malins have entered the fray and produced fine displays reminiscent of their illustrious predecessors. It is only a matter of time before we see them competing in the Premiership and even on the continent.
Fly-half Malins looked fully in control against Scarlets on Friday and, despite a couple of missed kicks at goal, he should slot into the No10 position again when Saracens host Leicester at Allianz Park this Sunday.
Meanwhile, Will Fraser’s return to action will be a welcome sight for director of rugby Mark McCall, particularly with the business end of the season looming and the squad attempting to defend three titles.
A victory for Malins, Fraser and their colleagues against the Tigers on Sunday would secure Saracens’ passage into the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, with their final points tally determining who they face in the final four.
Leicester have already secured their semi-final berth, which should suit Sarries’ youngsters – and the club’s home form is so good in all competitions anyway that it is difficult to see any other result apart from a home win.
Another semi-final spot would put Sarries’ youth section under a brighter spotlight and give their emerging talents a test that few will be used to facing.
But the experience of being in a similar position last time out would hold them in good stead and aid their quest to win the crown again.
Follow me on Twitter @AaronTillyer