Welsh rugby is united in its determination to maximise the participation of the four Regional Premiership Select XVs in the British & Irish Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
The cross border competition will run on European weekends, with the Regions utilising the opportunity to work alongside the Premiership clubs within their Regions to provide promising players with high quality game time. The Cup will also see upcoming Regional and Premiership coaches given the responsibility of preparing the sides while the Regional first teams are battling it out in Europe.
The new teams will benefit from live television coverage throughout the competition with S4C broadcasting one Welsh Regional Premiership Select fixture per round for as long as a Welsh side remains in the competition.
WRU Group Chief Executive Martyn Phillips said:
“The Welsh Rugby Union is committed to providing a strong pathway for our best players and coaches and the participation of the newly-formed teams in the British & Irish Cup will add intensity and provide a much needed competitive edge to the development structure of our best young prospects.
“We are determined to focus on all levels of Welsh rugby from grassroots to the international game and this is an example of all parties working together for the betterment of the sport.”
PRW Chief Executive Mark Davies said, “We recognise that our internationals do not just appear and that every step of the rugby pathway requires intensity, commitment and resource in order to develop players and coaches and we believe that by entering Regional Premiership Select XVs in the British & Irish Cup, the standard of rugby our young players are exposed to will increase, helping to bridge the gap between semi-professional and professional rugby in Wales.”
Principality Premiership chairman, Chris Clarke, added: “The Premiership clubs are again looking forward to playing their part in this important chapter in the development of our professional players and hopefully the competition will gain added momentum this season.”
The S4C television coverage begins with Scarlets v Bedford on Sunday (November 15 kick off 3pm).
English language commentary will be available through the Red Button option on S4C, which is available throughout the UK on platforms such as Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media.
S4C Sports Editor Sue Butler said, “S4C is delighted to provide live coverage of the new Regional Premiership Select teams in the British & Irish Cup competition. It adds greatly to our wide-ranging rugby portfolio which includes live and highlights coverage from the grassroots such as colleges rugby to the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup.”
The Blues Premiership Select side will be the first to fly the Welsh flag on home soil when they welcome Nottingham to the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday (14 November 2.30pm), while the Dragons Premiership Select will travel to Galway to play Connacht Eagles.
The following day will see Yorkshire Carnegie host the Ospreys Premiership Select XV in Huddersfield at 1.30pm ahead of the Scarlets Premiership Select’s televised encounter against Bedford Blues at Carmarthen Park.
The spotlight will not only fall on the rising stars of Welsh rugby but on the four coaching teams where individuals have been given a golden opportunity to develop their own careers.
Cardiff Blues Premiership Select coach, Richard Hodges, said: “We are looking forward to this season and excited about the challenge of taking part in the British & Irish Cup.
“The support we’ve had from players and coaches at Cardiff RFC and Pontypridd RFC has been fantastic. We’ve presented to both groups of players and told them what we want to achieve in this competition.
“Not only is this a competition for players to impress along the pathway, we will also be inviting coaches from Cardiff and Pontypridd to be involved to aid their development.
“We have been drawn against three established English Championship sides and start with a difficult test in Nottingham before taking on London Welsh and Cornish Pirates. We are aware of the success that Pontypridd have had in this competition in recent seasons and it is our aim to emulate that and enjoy a successful first year in the British & Irish Cup.”
The Ospreys Premiership Select XV will face London Scottish, Munster A and Yorkshire Carnegie in Pool 3 where head coach Dan Griffiths believes the tournament is a great opportunity for coaches as well as players.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for some of the young talent that is out there in the region playing for our clubs, one that those fortunate enough selected should be looking to take full advantage of,” he said.
“It'll be tough coming together as a squad of players to compete at a high level with some professional squads, but it's going to be an exciting campaign. It's also a great opportunity for a young coaching team to come to terms with the unique challenges of leading a team in a competition like this and we're looking forward to it."
Along with Bedford Blues, the Scarlets Premiership Select XV take on Bristol and Ulster A in Pool 2 in the new look competition.
Scarlets Premiership Select XV Head Coach Dai Flanagan, said: “We have a young group representing us this year and it’s their chance to impress on a bigger stage in front of bigger crowds and to play against new and exciting opposition. The competition is an opportunity for the young players to make that step up from Premiership and put their hands up for selection at regional level.”
Along with the Irish province, the Dragons Premiership Select XV will also face Doncaster and Jersey in Pool 5.
Dragons Academy Manager James Chapron, said: “The British and Irish Cup is the next step for us as a Region to do number of things including developing our own players from the Academy developmental senior tier, whilst offering those Premiership players the next level and potentially put their hands up for a regional place. We have a good tradition of developing the younger players and that step up is important to see the next level of potential players.
“The Dragons worked very closely with Cross Keys, who were our representative in the BIC last year in which we entered into a partnership deal with them. It was a tough competition in which we played Doncaster, whom we have drawn this season too, but lost unfortunately during two intense games. It was a real learning curve for myself and the Cross Keys coaches.
"Our link with our Premiership teams is essential once again this year to not only support us a as a region but to help us develop future Dragons players."
Pool 1: Ealing Trailfinders, Moseley, Leinster 'A', Rotherham Titans
Pool 2: Bedford Blues, Scarlets Premiership Select, Bristol Rugby, Ulster Ravens
Pool 3: Ospreys Premiership Select, Yorkshire Carnegie, Munster 'A', London Scottish
Pool 4: Nottingham Rugby, Cardiff Blues Premiership Select, London Welsh, Cornish Pirates
Pool 5: Newport Gwent Dragons Premiership Select, Connacht Eagles, Doncaster Knights, Jersey