CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: A Gwent XV in the B&I Cup could work out
9:00am Thursday 17th January 2013 in Sport
I FONDLY remember Newport beating Exeter in the British and Irish Cup in 2009 - and I am sure Andrew Coombs does as well.
The lock/back row forward was named in Wales Six Nations squad this week, a deserved reward for some abrasive performances with Newport Gwent Dragons over the festive period.
Coombs is a real 100 per center, somebody who may not be the most glamorous player on the paddock but won’t take a backward step.
Every side needs somebody like that, it can't be all sumptuous passes and glorious sidesteps.
And it is no exaggeration to state that it was Coombs’ rugged performances when leading from the front for the Black and Ambers in the cross-border competition that earned him a full-time contract.
Coombs went toe to toe with big, professional English packs, most notably against a Chiefs side that tasted their first defeat at a cold Rodney Parade.
After that game opposing coach Rob Baxter, who has turned Exeter into a top side that are enjoying their first Heineken Cup campaign, complained about Newport’s rough tactics.
It’s fair to say that Coombs played his part in that, although he wasn’t one of the four home players that were sin-binned in a brutal and fantastic clash.
He had been on the radar of then head coach Paul Turner and the Dragons before that game with the Chiefs but that 80 minutes, combined with big performances against Cornish Pirates, Leinster A, Gael Force and Plymouth, cemented their high opinion of him.
Coombs made his regional debut ten days after the end of the club’s cross-border campaign. Big British and Irish Cup games like that evening in Newport are the ones that show whether a semi-pro can mix it with the pros… yet they are becoming scarce.
All 12 Premiership clubs will be in action in the BIC this weekend, three of them have a chance of making the knockout stages but Welsh representation is likely to be down to one come Sunday evening.
Barring a couple of upsets, Llandovery will be the only side in the quarter-finals.
The Premiership clubs have played 44 cross-border fixtures and have won 15 of them, while the record without the Drovers, Ponty and Llanelli is just 5 successes in 29 encounters.
Officials have tinkered with the format this season with mixed success and the amount of dead rubbers has been increased by the eight pool winners being the only qualifiers.
It has left plenty of clubs racking up air miles and chugging along motorways for games they would rather not play.
There have also been a number of mismatches, which caused somebody at a club in this neck of the woods to raise an interesting proposition when I was chatting to him.
Should the Gwent Premiership Select XV – which beat the Dragons in a pre-season fixture – be put together for the British and Irish Cup?
It might be useful for the Welsh involvement to be a quartet of such teams, though I should stress they would NOT be Ospreys A, Blues A, Scarlets A and Dragons A.
They could be sides comprising of the best semi-professionals in the region playing at venues throughout the patch.
I appreciate that Newport, Cross Keys and Pontypridd have enjoyed representing their club with distinction rather than their region in the tournament.
I also acknowledge that the politics of standing shoulder to shoulder with a rival doesn’t work quite so well in other regions.
But maybe the future of the tournament could be the best semi-pros in the region joining forces to give it a real crack against the full-timers of England and Ireland.
Then Wales could really ruffle some feathers and allow another Coombs to make an impression.