The new-look Ulster Bank League will kick off in October with some top class club rugby action in store for the season ahead. The Friday Night Lights fixtures are set to expand across more games in all divisions.
Click here to view the full fixtures list for the 2011/12 Ulster Bank League.
The make-up of the new divisions can be seen here, along with the details of the restructuring for the new campaign. There are ten teams in both Divisions 1A and 1B, and 16 each in Divisions 2A and 2B.
Old Belvedere, who have a new forwards coach in John Fogarty, will start their Division 1 title defence with a tricky trip to Young Munster on Saturday, October 1, while last season’s beaten finalists Cork Constitution will visit headquarters for their opening clash with promoted side Lansdowne.
Andy Wood, who left Blackrock College at the end of last season, will be back to face the Stradbrook side as Clontarf head coach. ‘Rock are also getting used to a new regime under former Ireland and Lions back rower Eric Miller.
Also in Division 1A the Shay Deering memorial trophy will be on the line when Garryowen host St. Mary’s College at Dooradoyle, and Shannon, with Stephen Keogh now on board as their boss, will have home advantage for their opener against Dolphin.
The pick of the opening round fixtures in Division 1B will see a Peter Malone-coached Bruff side travel to Dubarry Park to face Buccaneers, who were pipped for promotion last season.
The division also includes Ballynahinch, UCD, Ballymena and Belfast Harlequins, who filled the top four spots in Division 2 last season.
In the newly-named Division 2B, there will be plenty of interest in how provincial winners Sligo (Connacht), Cashel (Munster), Boyne (Leinster) and Armagh (Ulster) fare over the course of the season. In fact, Sligo and Boyne have been pitted against each other in the opening round in Strandhill.
One of the key features for the 2011/12 season is the number of floodlit games that are planned across all four divisions. The ‘Friday Night Lights’ fixtures proved hugely popular last season with clubs and supporters.
This season sees even more Friday night games with the mouth-watering prospect of the first floodlit club game to be played at the Aviva Stadium when Lansdowne face Old Belvedere in round 3 on Friday, October 14.
That night will also see a huge clash at Musgrave Park when Dolphin and Cork Constitution renew old rivalries.
Commenting on the restructured league, IRFU Domestic Game Manager Scott Walker said: “We are really looking forward to the new season in the Ulster Bank League.
“The league has become increasingly competitive in recent seasons and with Ulster Bank as title sponsors, it promises to be an exciting year ahead.
“The Friday Night Lights programme proved very popular last season and came about as a result of feedback from clubs and supporters.
“The floodlit games between local rivals brought out the crowds and many of the clubs have done great work on providing a fun, family atmosphere on matchday.
“The Friday Night Lights game between Lansdowne and Old Belvedere at the Aviva Stadium promises to be one of the highlights of the season. It will be the first club rugby match on the main pitch and will attract huge interest.”
Ellvena Graham, Ulster Bank’s Director of Business Services Ireland, commented: “We were delighted with how the sponsorship was received last season and we are now looking forward to our first full season of the Ulster Bank League.
“‘Friday Night Lights’ is a great way for clubs to engage with their local community and bring in more supporters and members”
“We are also looking forward to bringing Ulster Bank RugbyForce to more clubs in the coming season and working with volunteers to improve club facilities in Ireland.”