The Welsh Rugby Union draw for the brand new British & Irish Cup has taken place and determined which opposition the top six Welsh Principality Premiership teams will face in the pool stages.
Encounters which revive the traditional cross-border fixtures will kick-off again from next season as Welsh rugby supporters welcome teams boasting some of the most famous names in the British and Irish game.
The competition will feature teams from the level immediately below the top tier of teams in British and Irish rugby.
The pool draw for the competition with fixtures to be subsequently announced is as follows:
POOL A: Exeter Chiefs, Leinster, Cornish Pirates, Newport, Plymouth Albion, The Thistles
POOL B: Coventry, Bristol Rugby, Heriot's, Munster, Neath, Nottingham
POOL C: Aberavon, Bedford Blues, Llanelli, London Welsh, Moseley, Ulster
The four pools of six will play over five weekends during the Invesco Perpetual Series and RBS 6 Nations windows with semi-finals and finals on April 24 and May 15 respectively.
The draw of the Welsh teams which took place in Cardiff at the Principality Premiership Awards dinner in the Millennium Stadium this week completes the pools for the new cup competition.
Welsh Rugby Union Head of Rugby Performance and Development Joe Lydon, said: "As the draw suggests, we can expect some high-calibre encounters at the very earliest stages of the competition.
"With teams from each nation spread across each pool we can expect a sharp competitive edge from the very first kick off.
"This is an opportunity for us to develop more players to achieve their full potential and enable them to compete at the very highest level.
"Welsh rugby fans have traditionally savoured the sporting edge delivered by cross border games and this cup will give our Principality Premiership Division a fantastic lift onto the next level of competition."
Chris Clarke, Chair of the Welsh Premier Division said, "It is a very exciting time for everyone involved in the Premiership club rugby. We feel this is a very positive move by the Welsh Rugby Union to get involved in this project and by the clubs who have given it their full support.
"We look forward to seeing this tournament kick-off and grow into something special." BACKGROUND
-12 English Championship clubs (Bedford, Birmingham & Solihull, Bristol Rugby, Cornish Pirates, Coventry, Doncaster Knights, Exeter Chiefs, London Welsh, Moseley, Nottingham, Plymouth Albion, Rotherham Titans)
- top 6 Welsh Principality Premiership clubs (Aberavon, Cardiff, Llanelli, Neath, Newport, Pontypridd)
- 3 Irish provinces (Munster, Leinster, Ulster)
- 3 Scottish teams - top two finishers in Scottish Hydro Electric Premiership Division 1 (champions Ayr and runners-up Heriot's) and the Scottish Thistles, a team drawn from Edinburgh and Glasgow and members of Scottish Rugby's National Academy
Pool Stages - 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 (all dates to be confirmed)
- 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
The Welsh Rugby Union is forming a new Youth Board with a brief to help keep more young people involved in the game during their late teenage years and beyond. The first task of the fifteen strong Board will be to analyse and consider the issues which lead to a number of youngsters drifting away from the sport between the ages of 16 and 21. To apply visit www.wru.wales/youthboard
The Foster's Challenge Cup will involve the 12 Principality Premiership sides and will run during European and British & Irish Cup weeks, providing vital fixtures for the participating clubs and an opportunity for upcoming players to step up to semi-professional rugby and make a claim for starting places within the Premiership squads.
Eighty schools and colleges in Wales now have a full time rugby officer as part of the WRU's school club hub scheme. All of the school club hub officers recently gathered at the National Centre of Excellence for various workshops.
With Liam Williams forced out of the World Cup through injury, lock Luke Charteris and Skills Coach Neil Jenkins say they have to put yesterday's defeat behind them as Wales now look ahead to another physical encounter against South Africa in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
WRU Consultant Head of Physical Performance Paul Stridgeon praises the Physical Performance department for their work and dedication as he addresses the media ahead of Wales' Pool A clash against Australia
Twelve young people have been selected to follow a one year WRU Coach Core apprenticeship programme. Coach Core was set up by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry as part of the Olympics legacy in 2012 and the Duke of Cambridge was on hand to meet the apprentices on their first day in the job. The programme has been funded by the Hunter Foundation.
The WRU has launched a campaign to create a long term legacy for Welsh club rugby by highlighting the advantages of volunteering. Rhian Edwards, a volunteer at Seven Sisters, has enjoyed many benefits of her volunteering at a grassroots rugby club including being part of the Rugby World Cup volunteer workforce after being nominated by the WRU - and the WRU is asking for more people to develop their 'Welsh rugby roots'.