For some reason this season’s British & Irish Cup seems to have caught the imagination of Championship coaches who, with the odd exception, have validated the competition by fielding surprisingly strong line-ups.
Timing is probably the main factor. At this early stage in proceedings teams are relatively unburdened by injuries and are still looking for cohesion in their first choice combinations and so the pressure to rotate is not yet high.
And of course virtually every club still have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals so there is no reason not to buy-in. Things might be different when the tournament resumes in December and January.
The big wigs at Twickenham Towers will probably try to tell us the general perception of the second tier’s second competition has been improved by the new comprehensible, sensible structure and the reward of prize money in the knockout stages.
Every club has its own motivation and at Moseley the fact they have fielded so many first choice players, Sam Brown, Buster Lawrence and Ben Pienaar for instance is simply down to necessity and the absence of viable alternatives.
However, in an otherwise wafer thin squad, in the forwards at least, there is something of an incongruous embarrassment of riches at full back where for Billy Robinson the B&I Cup has been a lifeline, a source of much-needed first team oxygen.
Going into the opening round of cup matches the 24-year-old, who made 27 appearances and had been a mainstay last term, had found himself battling for a shirt, not just in Kevin Maggs’s XV but at times in the match-day squad at all.
Indeed 2012-13 started with him as a water-carrier in the first two games and he has still only made a couple of Championship starts as Ollie Thomas and Anthony Carter passed the full back berth between them.
So it was with great relish that a fortnight ago the former Cambridge man began the Llanelli game, not just relieved to be getting his opportunity but delighted that it came in his preferred position. Whatever anyone wants to say about the B&I Cup, for Robinson it might just have kickstarted his season.
“I was just really glad to be out there and playing full back,” Robinson said. “Being given a chance at full back I was really eager to get my hands on the ball. I love playing rugby and I especially love playing at full back. I don’t know if I had a point to prove I just wanted to go out there and get involved and enjoy it as much as possible.”
His response against the Welsh outfit was reminiscent of a starving man coming face to face with a square meal. It would be unkind to describe his two excellent performances as desperate but they were definitely informed by a determination not to be sidelined again.
The eagerness to get involved from the back, the leg drive in contact, the alacrity with which he went about his defensive work were evidence to that.
“Not being selected for the first two, I felt how any player at this level would feel – I was disappointed and a bit frustrated. But that’s quite natural. The way to get yourself back in the side is to work hard and prove you should be there. Having played in nearly every game last year I was very disappointed not to be involved for the first two games this.”
And therein lies the competition for places. Maggs has real options with different horses for different courses and a choice between Thomas’s kicking game and creativity and Carter’s defensive solidity and organisational nous.