As editor of the sport section at Cherwell I am naturally expected to have an expert knowledge of all the intricacies of Oxford sport. I was therefore shocked, and somewhat ashamed, to find out in the past few weeks that the college rugby cuppers competition is not a straightforward knock out tournament as I had previously assumed. There are, in fact, three different competitions. One (main Cuppers) for those who won their first two games, another (the plate) for those who won their first game but lost the next, and finally the bowl for those teams who lost their first game but won their next.
The thought process behind this setup is obvious and in many ways commendable. In the football equivalent once you lose you’re out, that’s it. In rugby the prospect of a high profile final at Iffley Road is not extinguished by a defeat; the plate or the bowl offers salvation, a second chance. This is how the system should work; the trouble is it doesn’t always seem to happen that way.
I recently discovered that some colleges attempt to ‘play’ the system in order to give them a better chance of winning a trophy and indulging in the drunken and often naked celebrations we all know rugby players are so fond of. The story I heard was of a team that had impressively won their cuppers first round game and had been given a very winnable game next up, a win in which would send them into the main cuppers quarter finals. However they reasoned that the best teams in the University would also be in main cuppers quarter finals (can’t fault their logic there to be honest), and that they would be better off losing their winnable game to send them into the plate with less able teams (still with me?). It was then discovered that their opponents had exactly the same thought and were also planning to lose. Thankfully the two realised that playing a game in which they were both aiming to lose would be farcical (imagine the score), and therefore a contest to forfeit the game first began. One captain won, which meant his team ‘technically’ lost and went into the plate.
This I’m afraid is simply not sport. Sport, and especially a cup competition, is about trying to beat whoever you’re put up against. Imagine if Crawley Town had forfeited their FA Cup match at Old Trafford in order to concentrate on the FA Vase because they would probably lose to Manchester United but could beat Ebbsfleet. I appreciate that rugby is a different sport to football with a higher importance placed on power and strength which makes upsets less likely, but I still wouldn’t want to support the cynical approach of some of these teams. I’d take a glorious failure ahead of a hollow victory any day.