THE British and Irish Cup is to be downsized for next season, but Scotland will continue to have four clubs involved.
The competition is to move from this season’s 32 teams to just 24, with six pools of four clubs playing each other home and away. The change will only be felt in Wales whose representation is cut from all 12 Principality Premiership teams to just four, determined by a play-off at the start of next season.
The Irish will continue with their provincial reserve sides while the top four Scottish clubs this season were Ayr, Gala, Stirling County and Edinburgh Academicals, who will make their debut in the cup next season. England, however, will retain 12 spots to cover the entire Championship.
The RFU have been the driving force behind the competition, and Rob Andrew, the RFU professional rugby director, explained: “The British & Irish Cup organising committee agreed that the reduction in clubs would make for a more competitive league competition.
“The regional play-offs are a positive way of ensuring an appropriate regional spread combined with the best teams representing Wales in the competition, while the top four finishers in the Scottish domestic leagues will be automatically included alongside the 12 Championship clubs.”
Only Llanelli made it through to the last eight and there were no Welsh sides in the semi-finals, Leinster pipping Munster and Newcastle edging past Bedford at the weekend to set up an England-Ireland final. WRU head of rugby Joe Lydon insisted that the reduction in Wales’ places was a positive move for Welsh rugby.
“The British & Irish Cup is a fantastic competition and the restructure will give four Principality Premiership clubs every chance of being highly competitive,” he said.
“We are confident that this move will enhance our competitiveness in the British & Irish Cup and we look forward to some thrilling encounters in the battle for places come September.”
An SRU spokesperson said: “The British & Irish Cup has been a great opportunity for our top clubs to compete and benchmark themselves against some of the best teams in England, Ireland and Wales at this level and, through this our RBS Premier Division clubs, players, coaches and administrators have garnered invaluable experience which has contributed a great deal to raising the standards of play and off-field support in the club game in Scotland.
“With the number of teams being reduced this year it will make the tournament even more competitive and we look forward to working with our clubs to support them through this challenge.”