The Cumbria RFU competitions committee is to look at new ways of running the senior County Cup in future years.
It follows the disappointment this week of only four clubs taking up the invitation to contest this season’s competition, resulting in just three games – two semi-finals and a final.
The leading eight clubs in the county – as far as League positions are concerned – determined who was invited, and the committee received four from clubs who were declining.
All of them cited COVID and unavailability complications.
In fact St Benedict’s – and not Wigton – were one of the four clubs who declined along with Carlisle, Cockermouth and Kirkby Lonsdale.
Although Wigton were prepared to play in the competition they were not invited, and neither were other clubs in the Cumbria League.
There is to be no Junior County Cup this season, which would have given those clubs more fixtures, but it is something that will be looked at next season.
The Cumbria Cup, once the showpiece of the season, has gradually lost its prestige as more emphasise is being put onto League rugby.
Brian Mitchelhill, chairman of the competitions committee, said: “There used to be a time when we could fit County Cup fixtures into free League weekends. But that doesn’t seem to work now.
“There’s also a school of thought which suggests the cup could be played as a means of providing pre-season warm-up games.
“With more League reorganisation on the way next season we are going to be looking closely at how to include cup competitions into the fixture list.”
A number of officials recognise that there’s a real danger of several Cumbrian clubs being cut adrift, which would cause irreversible damage to their well-being.
The majority of Lancashire and Cheshire clubs have made it clear that they don’t want to travel to Cumbria. Hence a club being promoted from the Cumbria League each season has not gone down well.
A former club official from West Cumbria, who is no longer involved hands-on but still follows the game, is seriously concerned about the state of rugby union in the county.
He told the Cumbria Crack: “I always accepted it’s a geographical nightmare and a complex issue but a number of years ago people running the show weren’t prepared to stop being selfish, open their minds and look beyond the immediate effect on their own clubs rather than the bigger picture and the game in the county in general.
“Leagues are the best thing in the world when you are going up them. But when it’s your turn and the cycle has you in decline (which is bound to happen) the challenge becomes significant.
“Typically, when you haven’t got a strong team, how do you persuade lads to give up10/12 hours every second Saturday to travel 150 miles to get a thumping. It doesn’t work. We should all know that.
“Now if you flash the cash and bring in others as the stragglers fall off you can keep going but is it really sustainable? Importantly what does it do to a club’s culture?
“Resources, funds and efforts get concentrated on keeping the first team afloat and juniors who are your future simply get neglected until it’s too late.
“I remember telling them a number of years ago now that it would just result in a major differential in standards and what’s happened? It really frustrates me because I could see it coming as sure as night follows day.
“I sincerely hope I’m wrong but there’s a real risk of COVID being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
The effects of COVID, of course, can’t be over-estimated but there was already a culture in modern sport (especially it seems in both codes of rugby) that there was no longer a needed to be committed for a season with your club.
Stag weekends and music festival weekends, and a reluctance to travel so far for a game of rugby (and often on the wrong end of a heavy score-line) have become the norm.
There are notable exceptions, of course, which is excellent and those clubs are to be backed on their ambitions in the League formats.
But the majority are struggling on committed numbers and there is no immediate answer.
An independent Cumbria League, divorced from the RFU, but heavily sponsored with various kinds of incentives, which will provide a full, competitive fixture list with all travelling inside the county might be a start. If it isn’t too late.