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VIDEO – Rob Andrew hails growing Championship brand

04 September 2013

  • RFU's Professional Rugby Director speaks from Greene King IPA Championship launch
  • “The competition's growth in the last four years has been phenomenal” – Andrew

Rob Andrew has hailed the Greene King IPA Championship as an essential breeding ground for England’s brightest young talent and a crucial component of this country’s professional rugby infrastructure.

Speaking at the competition’s official launch in St Margarets yesterday, the Professional Rugby Director of the Rugby Football Union highlighted the upcoming campaign as a flagship one.

Rob Andrew at the Greene King IPA Championship launch

Photo: Getty Images

After pointing out the marked increase in Sky Sports coverage as well as Greene King IPA’s support, Andrew suggested that this season – the fourth since the division’s inception in 2009 – could be the best yet.

“I think [the Championship] has improved out of all recognition,” he said. “Four years ago, it was in a position where we weren’t quite sure whether it sat in the community game or the professional game – we had to take the decision to really make it a big part of the professional game in this country.

“The growth in the last four years has been phenomenal and today is another massive landmark – maybe one of the biggest we’ve had. We now have our own partner in Greene King, and a television company in Sky Sports putting more games on. That opportunity is huge and as we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s a good product.”

One outstanding feature of the domestic set-up in recent times has been the dual-registration system that allows Aviva Premiership clubs to loan out their younger players for crucial first-team rugby in the second tier.

This chance to learn the intricacies of senior rugby and experience consistent game-time has seen a rapid rise to prominence for a series of internationals.

Tom Youngs carries for the British and Irish Lions

Photo: Getty Images

Three front-rowers that helped the British and Irish Lions defeat Australia this summer – Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole – spent time with Nottingham Rugby at the start of their careers for London Irish and Leicester Tigers respectively.

And Mako Vunipola, another triumphant Lions tourist, plied his trade at Bristol Rugby before signing for Saracens in 2011.

“You cannot underestimate the value of playing, especially for youngsters,” Andrew continues. “One of the things we have really valued the Championship for is for 18, 19 and 20 year-olds to learn their trade.

“You can do all the training you want and be in the gym all day and all night, but you need to play the game, especially if you’re a front-row forward like Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero or Mako Vunipola – that’s four Lions this summer who learnt their trade in the Championship.

“A lot of the England Under 20 squad who won the Junior World Championship this summer played in the Championship through dual-registration as well.

Noah Cato carries during the 2012/3 Championship final

Photo: Getty Images

“If you’re 19 and you can play 80 minutes a week for the next two years, learning from the mistakes that you make along the way, you will become a better player. It’s a big reason why our players are improving at the rate they are.”

Led by former England and Scotland boss Andy Robinson, Bristol are sure to be lead contenders for this year’s Championship crown. However, Andrew predicted that five other sides – including London Welsh – would be competing to follow Newcastle Falcons into the top tier.

“It’s always difficult to predict these things,” he admitted. “London Welsh looked pretty strong last year despite going down and Nottingham and Leeds had good seasons too.

“Bristol have invested in the team and obviously Andy Robinson is there. Bedford Blues and Cornish Pirates will be there or thereabouts as well. I wouldn’t look beyond those six teams.”