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 Half a Game initiative is currently sweeping across Wales and proving a major success. The scheme aims to give every young player at least half a game every weekend. WRU TV recently visited a festival in Narberth where clubs have fully embraced the initiative.
Both Bargoed and Swansea were seeking their first win of the Principality Premiership season this afternoon. It proved a fruitful day for the hosts - not only did they win, but Bargoed claimed a try bonus point.
Cardiff managed to keep their unbeaten record at home intact, but only just as Bridgend made them work extremely hard before the Blue and Blacks secured a hard fought Principality Premiership win at the BT Sport Arms Park last night.
Former Wales back row Andy Powell gives a guided tour of The Wern, home of Merthyr RFC, who are determined to prove a lot of people wrong and make their mark in their first season in the Principality Premiership.
Wales Sevens head coach Gareth Williams looks back on the Rio Sevens success where he helped GB win silver. He believes the successful campaign is a huge boost to his Welsh squad as they prepare for another World Series, as WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie discovers
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will be heading back home to take on the All Blacks next year where for him, success for 2017 is all about going to New Zealand and winning a Test Series.
Last week all roads led to Eugene Cross Park where defending champions Ebbw Vale hosted this season's launch of the Principality Premiership. WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie was there to capture the thoughts of Damien Hudd, captain of Ebbw Vale, and WRU Head of Performance, Geraint John.
Llandovery made it three in a row when they defeated Aberavon in the final of the National Foster's 7s at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday. On another eventful day of sevens, Newport claimed the Plate and the Dragons won the women's crown
Last week saw Cardiff welcome players from around the world for the 21st Golden Oldies Festival. The tournament features players over 35 years of age, and this year's event saw a select few represent the WRU in a 'friendly' against the Wooden Spoon.
Wales Under 18 captain Callum Bradbury is delighted to have seen his side claim a narrow 18-17 victory against a strong SA Schools 'A' side to end the three-match Under 19 International Series in South Africa on a high note.
The Wales U18 squad spent an emotional day in the drug-riddled townnship of Hout Bay. Hout Bay Warriors President Fred Johannes said the visit was 'the talk of the town' and will dream about the day everyday for the rest of his life.
RGC 1404's new head coach Mark Jones is hoping to build 'something special' in north Wales and is already looking forward to the development region participating in the Principality Premiership for the very first time.