EDINBURGH Accies could not have asked for a tougher debut in the British & Irish Cup this afternoon, with Welsh Principality Premiership champions and current joint leaders Pontypridd the visitors to Raeburn Place.
Gala, in the cross-border event for the third consecutive season, are also at home on the opening weekend against Welsh opponents in the shape of Aberavon.
Scotland’s most regular performers in the event, Ayr, have made the long trip to Jersey while Stirling County, who are competing for the second year in a row, are in Ireland to face Munster A.
London Scottish complete interest north of the border with a match-up with London Welsh.
Since the cross-border competition began in 2009-10, only one Scottish side – Ayr in 2010-11, have managed to reach the knock-out stages.
Given that the clubs are punching above their weight and, at times, taking on fully professional sides from England, Ireland and Wales, this is perhaps not urprising, but there is no doubt the competition has helped raise the level of the Scottish club game.
This year, the event features the four Scottish clubs, 12 teams from the English Championship, the four Irish provinces’ A sides and four Welsh Principality Premiership sides.
It promises to be an exciting day at Raeburn Place today when two famous clubs – formed in 1857 and 1876 respectively – square up in Pool Two.
For Accies, Scotland under-20 prop Phil Cringle returns to the front-row to start alongside Alex Allan and Michael Liness, while Scotland cap Lee Jones is released by Edinburgh Rugby and starts on the bench.
Accies’ head coach Jonny Else said: “The excitement has been mounting since we qualified last season.
“The players have worked extremely hard over pre-season and into the start of this season to ensure they are ready to tackle this competition.
“We know that the B&I Cup will be a step up in terms of physicality and skill level, but the players and coaches are motivated and determined to represent the club with pride. We are ready to face this challenge head on, while ensuring that we impose our own game on the opposition.”
For Pontypool, centre Gavin Dacey will be making his 200th appearance for the club.
Gala take on Aberavon, second bottom in the Principality Premiership, at Netherdale at 7pm in Pool Five.
Young Gregor Mein is handed the key stand-off position for the hosts, while Edinburgh Rugby’s Scottish qualified scrum-half Grayson Hart starts and their Australian prop James Hilterbrand is on the bench.
Gala head coach George Graham said: “All Welsh teams brings a sense of flair and aggression and we will have to be at our best to contain them. However, we will try and play our game and if we play as we played last week [against Accies] then we will be in the game at the end.”
Ayr have travelled around 450 miles to get to Jersey in Pool Six and are looking forward to the contest against the Championship side.
Glasgow Warriors’ EDP Finn Russell is back at stand-off for Ayr, but skipper Calum Forrester is missing.
Graham Williamson joins Scott Sutherland in the second-row, while there were a number of Ayr supporters making the long trip too.
Stirling County will tackle Munster A, with young talent Archie Russell keeping his place in the centre and Glasgow Warrior Tom Ryder in the second-row.
Former Scotland under-21 captain Lewis Calder makes the move from back-row to hooker for London Scottish at London Welsh in Pool Two.
British & Irish Cup squads
Edinburgh Accies (v Pontypridd, Pool Two, Raeburn Place, 3pm today): J Sole; N Godsmark, E Campbell, I Bertinussen, S Pecqueur; A Blair, A Black; A Allan, M Liness, P Cringle, G Campbell, J McCarthy, R Snape, C Reid, H Watson. Subs: D Morrison, S Strudwick, F Rawlinson, T Stuart, M Campbell, R Bonner, L Jones.
Gala (v Aberavon, Pool Five, Netherdale, 7pm today): G Speirs; G Somerville, C Auld, E Scott, L Draycott; G Mein, G Hart; R Sutherland, C Mackintosh, E McQuillin, C Weir, C Borthwick, R Todd, T Weir, S Cairns. Subs: J Hilterbrand, L Bertram, Gary Graham, C Mein, George Graham, A Emond, C Robertson.
Ayr (v Jersey, Pool Six, St Peter, 3pm today): G Anderson; C Gossman, R Dalgleish, R Fergusson, K Gossman; F Russell, P Jericevich; D Mutamangira, F Scott, G Hunter, S Sutherland, G Williamson, P McCallum, C Templeton, A Dunlop. Subs: D Young, S Fenwick, D Rae, C Dunn, M McConnell, C Taylor, D McCluskey.
Stirling County (v Munster A, Pool Four, Bandon RFC, 5pm today): B Addison; G Lindsay, A Russell, B Archibald, R Hughes; S Edwards, AJ McFarlane; J Bhatti, R Kennedy, C Hutton, R Leishman, T Ryder, S Robertson, A Ashe, W Bordill. Subs: A Moffat, K Burney, S McDonald, J Swanson, M Larsen, J Hope, R Hogg.
London Scottish (v London Welsh, Pool Two, Newbury RFC, 2.30pm today): J Love; P Homan, M Doneghan, PJ Gidow, M Mantella; D Newton, J Stevenson; J Kilbane, L Calder, T Francis, P Spivey, D Lyons, C Pennycook, B Russell, J Trayfoot. Subs: H Allen, M Irish, L Thiede, M Bright, B Pattenden, O Grove, A Reay.