The tournament will give the opportunity to develop youth and squad players, giving them the chance to play alongside some of their more experienced colleagues.
Twelve teams from the English Championship, six from the Welsh Principality Premiership, Irish provinces Munster, Leinster and Ulster and three Scotland sides will compete for the trophy. The teams will be divided into four pools of six, playing over five weekends during the autumn international and RBS 6 Nations windows, with semi-finals and finals on April 24 and May 15 respectively.
Launching the competition yesterday, IRFU Director of Rugby Eddie Wigglesworth said: “From an Irish perspective we welcome the introduction of the British & Irish Cup which will provide a very competitive professional game structure to meet the needs of our emerging contracted players. The teams involved are well known rugby entities in their own right and, in conjunction with our existing internal structures, will ensure that this group of professionals have the necessary professional game exposure to meet the increasingly competitive demands at Magners League and Heineken Cup levels.
“It also provides a unique cross-border game opportunity for Irish coaches and referees.
“Overall, the British & Irish Cup introduces a more structured approach to the existing Ireland provincial A game programme in each province. In 2009/10 this competition, when combined with the existing ‘A’ interprovincial series, will deliver the same number of games as agreed last year, with only the semi-final and finals additional games. Games will take place over the extended weekends (Thursday–Sunday) and will not conflict at any point in the season with the AIB league weekends or the latter stages of the AIB cup. We need this additional professional game opportunity to augment the existing provincial academy and development player structure and also need a very strong domestic league. The AIB League represents the top level of our domestic game and professional player involvement in the AIB League is important to both the clubs and our professional structure. We believe this more structured approach can alleviate many of the current interface issues in the coming seasons.”
The 12 English Championship clubs are Bedford, Birmingham & Solihull, Bristol Rugby, Cornish Pirates, Coventry, Doncaster, Exeter Chiefs, London Welsh, Moseley, Nottingham, Plymouth Albion and Rotherham Titans. The top six Welsh principality Premiership clubs will compete along with the top two finishers in Scottish Hydro Electric Premiership Division 1 (champions Ayr and Boroughmuir or Heriot’s) and a team drawn from the SRU National Academy and Edinburgh and Glasgow.