B&I, the cup that didn't cheer and hasn't even seen clubs break even

DONCASTER KNIGHTS paid the sizeable sum of £30,000 to charter a flight to Ireland for Saturday's British & Irish Cup pool game against Leinster A.

When you consider they will receive just £10,000 for subsequently reaching the quarter-final stages it becomes painfully clear why the competition – incepted in 2009-10 – has long since been doomed.

It was announced last November this would be the tournament’s last season, Scottish sides having already pulled out in 2014 and then the English Championship clubs losing patience, too.

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It is a shame in many ways as great rugby days can be still be achieved, as shown on Saturday.

Doncaster Knights Lesley Klim is tackled by Ciarán Frawley, of Leinster A, during the sides British & Irish Cup encounter (Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile).

In the rain at Donnybrook, spirited Doncaster rallied from 21-8 down to eventually prosper 37-28 against their previously unbeaten opponents.

Like an SAS in-and-out mission, the job was done and, thus, they were able to enjoy a few pints of the Black Stuff with the hospitable crowd in the Old Wesley clubhouse before a short journey back to Dublin airport.

Nevertheless, that crowd did just stand at 786, another unavoidable issue with the much-maligned competition.

“When we went to Connacht a couple of seasons ago there was hardly a soul in that ground,” said Steve Lloyd, whose benevolence, along with that of chairman Tony de Mulder, has helped underpin Knights for so many years.

Doncaster Knights Lesley Klim is tackled by Ciarán Frawley, of Leinster A, during the sides British & Irish Cup encounter (Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile).

“The Doncaster support was not far off half of the attendance. It got so silly I went to introduce myself to all the rest of the crowd.

“One of their guys said there’s one of their premier sides playing just down the road and they’d get 1,500 people there.

“But there was no interest at all in Connacht A playing. The British & Irish Cup was doomed.

“The sadness is you get a Welsh side coming up – this year it was Cardiff at our place – and the tradition in the Championship is you entertain six of their committee.

“But nobody came. You think, ‘come on guys, you’re not treating this seriously’. They get a fair bit of hospitality so let’s try and make something of it. But they just weren’t bothered.”

Lloyd continued: “It has died a death and it’s been a slow death over a number of years.

“The attitude towards it now in the Championship is no different to three or four years ago.

“That’s because people have just seen the evidence – very low crowds, no interest, attendance figures are always down.

“The heart went out of it when Scotland left as, at least with them, it was a four nations tournament for better or worse.

“Similarly, when the Welsh Premiership were in. The likes of Pontypridd wanted to stay, desperately, only to see the four Welsh regions decide they wanted it as a second-team contest as they’d seen the way Ireland was going. So, you have two sets of regional sides and the Championship 12, which doesn’t have any great logic to it does it?

“There’s been lots of ideas – some more bizarre than others like going into Europe – but nonetheless none have been explored properly so the Championship next season is isolated.

“We can’t go up to 14 clubs, we’re stuck with 12 and we can’t have a (B&I) Cup competition as there’s no one to play us. In the end we said we are masters of our own destiny; we’ve got what we’ve got – 12 sides, 22 league games and we need to play 30.”

A Championship Cup, then, is likely to emerge from the ashes, but Lloyd conceded: “There’s still debate to be had. It’s got to be financed and the RFU cannot take the benefits of player development – which is as much through a cup as it is the league – and not meet their obligations.

“The argument is much the same as the league: we are under-funded.”

With four Irish clubs in B&I Cup action, costs are always high.

“There’s one in each pool and the other pool has Jersey,” added Lloyd.

“If you go over water it costs. It’s very simple. If we hadn’t flown in and out (on Saturday) it would have been two nights in a hotel for the boys, which is expensive.

“Then there’s transport to whichever airport – Manchester or Liverpool. And also there’s player welfare.

“To say, for a non-descript setup, we have to go and have two nights away...

“I’m always conscious of that. We have to look after our players many of whom are family guys with young kids.

“But it doesn’t matter if coming in for two nights or in and out in a day you will be out of pocket, not just (on Saturday), but against what you get from the RFU; Bristol and Cardiff are hardly next door either.

“The nonsense is we’re not looking to make money out of this, we’re just looking to not lose money. But everyone is.”