Girvan Dempsey’s Leinster ‘A’ side begin their quest for a hat-trick of British & Irish Cup titles with a trip to Plymouth Albion on Saturday afternoon.
Leinster ‘A’ became the only side in the five-year history of the competition to win the trophy more than once when they beat Leeds Carnegie in last season’s one-sided final at Donnybrook.
The previous year, the Blues were pushed to the limit by Newcastle before winning a thrilling final in extra-time.
For the first time, there will be no Scottish representation in the cross-border competition, with the 12 sides from Greene King IPA Championship competing against the ‘A’ teams of the four Irish provinces and four Welsh Premiership sides, who have been selected on merit following the results of regional play-offs.
The quarter-finals will be made up of the five pool winners and the three best runners-up.
BRITISH & IRISH CUP – ROUND 1 FIXTURES:
Pontypridd v London Scottish, Saturday, October 11, 2.30pm
These sides met as recently as last season when both ties went the way of the home side. Scottish did well to leave Sardis Road with a losing bonus point, going down to a 27-20 defeat after playing the last hour with 14 men due to Neil Best’s red card.
The Exiles got their revenge a week later when they beat the Welsh side 26-21 in another tight game. Pontypridd have been Wales’ most consistent performers in the British & Irish Cup with two semi-final and one quarter-final appearance. London Scottish have never made it past the pool stages in three attempts.
Bristol v CONNACHT EAGLES, Ashton Gate, Sunday, October 12, 3pm
This will be the first-ever competitive meeting between 2011 British & Irish Cup winners Bristol and Connacht, although Bristol did win a pre-season friendly in Galway 33-24 back on August 8, 2002.
Bristol have reached the knockout stages on three occasions, while the Eagles have fallen at the first hurdle in their two tournament appearances. Bristol have yet to lose at Ashton Gate.
Nigel Carolan’s Connacht outfit enter the tournament on a high after a dramatic 26-24 win away to Ulster Ravens last Thursday, with replacement Conor McKeon landing the match-winning conversion.
Yorkshire Carnegie v Rotherham Titans, Friday, October 10, 8pm
Yorkshire Carnegie take their opening game of the British & Irish Cup to the seaside, with Scarborough RUFC’s Silver Royd ground playing host to the fixture. These great Yorkshire rivals have met twice before in cup competition, with Carnegie winning on both occasions.
The only British & Irish Cup tie between the sides ended in a 17-3 home win for the Headingley-based outfit in September 2011. Both clubs reached the knockout stages for the first time in 2013/14.
Aberavon v ULSTER RAVENS, Talbot Athletic Ground, Saturday, October 11, 2.30pm
Ulster Ravens put 62 points on Aberavon when they last met in the British & Irish Cup, in March 2010. The Ravens scored 31 unanswered points in each half and ran in 10 tries in total.
Ulster have still to improve on their semi-final appearance at the inaugural tournament in 2009/10. Aberavon have played in all bar one of the five seasons of the British & Irish Cup but have never made it out of their pool.
Half-backs Sean O’Hagan and David Shanahan led a young Ravens back-line in their 26-24 home loss to Connacht Eagles last Thursday, with wingers Jack Owens (2) and Ross Adair touching down along with replacement centre Sam Arnold.
Nottingham v Worcester Warriors, Sunday, October 12, 3pm
Two weeks after being beaten 55-16 in the Championship, Nottingham get an early chance to turn the tables on Worcester in the first ever British & Irish Cup tie between the sides.
Competition ever-presents Nottingham have twice reached the quarter-finals while Worcester, in their one and only previous outing in 2010/11, made it to the last four before being beaten by Bedford.
MUNSTER ‘A’ v Moseley, Clonmel RFC, Saturday, October 11, 3pm
Munster ‘A’ beat Moseley on their way to winning the British & Irish Cup in 2012, the Irish province coming away from Billesley Common with a 29-0 victory.
The Mick O’Driscoll-coached Reds have only ever failed to make the knockout stages once, in 2010/11 – the same year that Moseley reached the quarter-finals for the only time in their history.
O’Driscoll’s charges come into this season’s competition on the back of a 18-8 victory over reigning champions Leinster ‘A’ at Donnybrook. Shane Buckley and Luke O’Dea scored a try apiece in last Saturday’s ‘A’ interprovincial clash.
Cornish Pirates v Bedford Blues, Sunday, October 12, 3pm
One of four all-Championship ties, Cornish Pirates v Bedford pits together two former British & Irish Cup finalists. Pirates became the inaugural winners when they beat Munster ‘A’ in 2010, while the Blues lost narrowly to Bristol in the final a year later.
The Blues’ last win on Cornish soil came on March 31, 2013, when Myles Dorrian contributed 21 of their points in a 26-18 victory.
Cross Keys v Doncaster Knights, Saturday, October 11, 2.30pm
Doncaster travel to the Valleys looking to make it three away wins on the trot. While Doncaster have had strong ties with Wales in the past few years, with current director of rugby Clive Griffiths and his predecessors Lynn Howells and Kingsley Jones hailing from the country, this will be the club’s first ever encounter with 2012 beaten finalists Cross Keys.
The Knights’ best showing in the British & Irish Cup came in 2009/10 when they reached the semi-finals.
Plymouth Albion v LEINSTER ‘A’, Brickfields, Saturday, October 11, 3pm
Plymouth made the quarter-finals for the first time in their history last season, a 41-21 defeat to Leeds Carnegie at Headingley ending their interest for another year.
Albion could not have asked for a tougher start to the 2014/15 campaign than a visit from two-time winners Leinster ‘A’.
The sides have face each other in the pool stages twice before, with Leinster ‘A’ winning both matches. They won 16-13 at Brickfields on November 21, 2009 and 25-16 a year later in Dublin.
Jersey v Carmarthen Quins, Saturday, October 11, 3pm
Carmarthen Quins put up a good showing in their one and only appearance in the competition in 2012/13. The west Wales side won four out of their six pool fixtures that year and only missed out on a quarter-final place on points difference.
Quins were runners-up in last year’s Welsh Premiership and look set for another good season after kicking off with four straight wins to lie second in the table. Jersey have won three, drawn one and lost eight matches since being welcomed into the British & Irish Cup fold.