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 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'.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland and captain Sam Warburton say their first prioirty on Sunday in the opening game of the World Cup is to win against Uruguay and not get overly concerned with points difference.
With only days to go until the biggest rugby competition in the world begins, rugby fans visiting Cardiff this autumn will be able to enjoy a special display at National Museum Cardiff as part of the celebrations surrounding the Rugby World Cup.