ANDY Robinson and Sir Ian McGeechan will return to Scotland, Nick Campbell could face his old club-mates and Gordon Ross could renew acquaintances with one of his first coaches.
These are among the highlights of the draw for the forthcoming season’s British & Irish Cup which was announced yesterday.
Four home-based Scottish clubs – the top four finishers in last season’s RBS Premier Division – are among the 24 teams from across the British Isles competing in the cup. The Scottish teams are Ayr, Gala, newcomers Edinburgh Accies and Stirling County, with a fifth, London Scottish, competing from the English Championship.
Ayr are drawn in Pool 6 with Cornish Pirates, Ulster Ravens and Jersey. Gala are in Pool 5 with Bristol Rugby, Leeds Carnegie and the top-ranked team from Wales (which will be determined after a qualifying competition ends in September). Edinburgh Accies are in Pool 2 with London Welsh, London Scottish and Wales 2 and Stirling County are in Pool 4 with Munster A, Nottingham Rugby and Plymouth Albion.
Scottish Rugby’s Head of Clubs and Schools Nick Rennie said: “The British & Irish Cup is a great competition which exposes our clubs to a higher intensity, not only on the pitch, which is well documented, but off the pitch too, whether in terms of logistics and what it takes on the medical, analysis and PR and marketing sides.”
Responding to the draw, Bob Easson, director of rugby at Edinburgh Accies, said: “It’s an exciting one. We are working really hard to continue to professionalise the set-up at Accies and this [competition] gives us the opportunity to challenge the players and ourselves.”
George Graham, the Gala coach, believes his team can improve upon their form in last season’s tournament. “We had a baptism of fire when we played Llanelli down in Wales last season but we learned from it, especially the importance of speed and accuracy,” he said. “Speed and getting back into position quickly, coupled with intensity at the breakdown, were the areas that stood out for me and if you don’t compete in those areas, then teams will run riot against you.”
Examining Gala’s pool opponents, Graham added: “Leeds [with Sir Ian McGeechan back at the helm] and Bristol have always been in the upper reaches of the English Championship and, with Andy Robinson at Bristol, they’ll keep getting better. We do have quite a big pack and I’ll be asking the players to learn from the experience last season. We’ll be determined to up our performance.”
Peter Laverie, Ayr’s assistant coach, was equally upbeat about their draw and reflected on their past involvement in the competition. “What we discovered in the British & Irish Cup, especially against English sides, was that you have to match the physicality straight away. If you do that you give yourselves a chance,” he said. “It’s a competition that the players love because they are tested and it’s something different from the regularity of league competition.”
Graeme Young, Stirling County’s head coach, said his team will have learned from their involvement in last season’s competition but admitted the difference in conditioning as one of the key challenges that Scottish clubs need to address.
“You can watch professional rugby on TV, but until you face players head-to-head, you won’t necessarily understand the conditioning and physicality required,” said Young. “The difference between us and the top end of the English championship was a couple of levels, particularly on the conditioning side. If our guys are going to become better, they have to be exposed to a higher level.”
Pool 1: Leinster A; Wales 3; Moseley; Ealing Trailfinders
Pool 2: London Welsh; Wales 2; London Scottish; Edinburgh Academicals
Pool 3: Bedford Blues; Rotherham Titans; Wales 4; Connacht
Pool 4: Munster A; Nottingham Rugby; Plymouth Albion; Stirling County
Pool 5: Bristol Rugby; Wales 1; Leeds Carnegie; Gala
Pool 6: Cornish Pirates; Ulster Ravens; Ayr; Jersey RFC.
12/13 October: Pool 2: London Welsh v London Scottish; Edinburgh Accies v Wales 2. Pool 4: Munster A v Stirling County. Pool 5: Gala v Wales 1. Pool 6: Jersey v Ayr
19/20 October: Pool 2: London Scottish v Edinburgh Accies. Pool 4: Stirling County v Plymouth Albion. Pool 5 Leeds Carnegie v Gala. Pool 6 Ayr v Cornish Pirates
7/8 December: Pool 2: Wales 2 v London Scottish; London Welsh v Edinburgh Accies. Pool 4 Stirling County v Nottingham Rugby. Pool 5 Bristol Rugby v Gala. Pool 6: Ayr v Ulster Ravens
14/15 December: London Scottish v Wales 2; Edinburgh Accies v London Welsh. Pool 4: Nottingham Rugby v Stirling County. Pool 5: Gala v Bristol Rugby. Pool 6: Ulster Ravens v Ayr
11/12 January: Pool 2 Edinburgh Accies v London Scottish. Pool 4: Plymouth Albion v Stirling County. Pool 5: Gala v Leeds Carnegie. Pool 6: Cornish Pirates v Ayr
18/19 January: Pool 2: London Scottish v London Welsh; Wales 2 v Edinburgh Accies. Pool 4: Stirling County v Munster A. Pool 5: Wales 1 v Gala. Pool 6: Ayr v Jersey
Quarter-finals: 5/6 April.
Semi-finals: 26/27 April.
Final: 24 or 25 May.