A new 24-team British & Irish Cup will take place from next season. Twelve teams from the English Championship, six from the Welsh Principality Premiership, Irish provinces Munster, Leinster and Ulster and three Scotland sides will compete for the inaugural trophy.
The teams will be divided into four pools of six, playing over five weekends during the Autumn international and RBS 6 Nations windows, with semi-finals and finals on April 24 and May 15 respectively.
Launching the new competition today, Terry Burwell, the Rugby Football Union’s Tournaments and Competitions Director, said: “This is an exciting new tournament that will provide quality cross-border competition and will be a winner with players, coaches and fans alike.
“There is a real appetite for this competition and, from an English point of view, it will give Championship clubs an additional meaningful competition alongside their league structure.”
Irish Rugby Football Union Director of Rugby Eddie Wigglesworth said: “From an Irish perspective we welcome the introduction of the British & Irish Cup which will provide a very competitive professional game structure to meet the needs of our emerging contracted players.
“The teams involved are well known rugby entities in their own right and, in conjunction with our existing internal structures, will ensure that this group of contracted professionals have the necessary professional game exposure to meet the increasingly competitive demands at Magners League and Heineken Cup levels.
“It also provides a unique cross border game opportunity for Irish coaches and referees.”
“Overall, the British & Irish Cup introduces a more structured approach to the existing Ireland provincial ‘A’ game programme in each province.
“In 2009/10, this competition when combined with the existing ‘A’ interprovincial series will deliver the same number of games as agreed last year, with only the semi-final and finals additional games.
“Games will take place over the extended weekends (Thursday to Sunday) and will not conflict at any point in the season with the AIB League weekends or the latter stages of the AIB Cup.
“The Irish rugby scene, in the context of our neighbours, is small but very dynamic and thankfully very productive player-wise.
“We need this additional professional game opportunity to augment the existing provincial Academy and Development player structure and also need a very strong domestic league.
“The AIB League represents the top level of our domestic game and professional player involvement in the AIB League is important to both the clubs and our professional structure.
“We believe this more structured approach can alleviate many of the current interface issues in the coming seasons.”
Welsh Rugby Union Head of Performance and Development Joe Lydon said: “We are delighted to be fully involved in this exciting new competition.
“It will engage all our teams in the type of cross-border sporting rivalry which will generate support and help improve the standard of play in all the teams involved.
“Here in Wales we know the appetite for this level of competition exists and it will deliver measurable benefits to the development and sustainability of the professional and semi-professional sport here.
“The names of the Welsh clubs involved will be familiar to rugby followers from around the world as they formed the tradition and history of the national sport of Wales.
“We have already received the backing in principle of our Premiership Division clubs and we look forward to welcoming to Wales some of the best young players from around the UK and Ireland.”
Scottish Rugby’s National Academy Manager Stephen Gemmell added: “Scottish Rugby welcomes the launch of the British & Irish Cup.
“This competition will give some of our best players, including those from our top two clubs in Premiership Division 1, an opportunity to test themselves in an intense environment against quality, battle-hardened opposition from throughout the British Isles. We all believe such a competition will serve as a real boost to our game.”
• 12 English Championship clubs (Bedford, Birmingham & Solihull, Bristol Rugby, Cornish Pirates, Coventry, Doncaster, Exeter Chiefs, London Welsh, Moseley, Nottingham, Plymouth Albion and Rotherham Titans)
• the top 6 Welsh Principality Premiership clubs
• 3 Irish provinces – Munster ‘A’, Leinster ‘A’ and Ulster ‘A’
• 3 Scottish teams – top two finishers in Scottish Hydro Electric Premiership Division 1 (champions Ayr and Boroughmuir or Heriot’s) and a team drawn from the SRU National Academy and Edinburgh and Glasgow
• 4 pools of 6 playing once (5 matches)
• pools based on travel/geography with the aim of maximising local interest and minimising cost to teams and supporters
• 4 points for a win, 2 for a draw, 1 bonus point for either a) scoring 4 or more tries or b) losing by 7 points or less
• pool matches scheduled for November 7 and 28, February 13, February 27, March 13 (N.B. These are non-AIB League fixture weekends)
• pool winners progress to knockout stage
Semi-finals and final
• 4 pool winners progress to semi finals and final
• Semi finals scheduled for April 24, final for May 15