Clubs await fixture list with new group format primed for launch

The fixtures for the rest of the season will be announced today with the country's top 24 club rugby teams getting ready to play in three groups of eight and put the restructured league system to the test.

On 13 November, the first Group 1, 2 and 3 matches will take place with plenty to be decided over seven rounds of fixtures that will run until 2 April, fitting around Premier Cup and British & Irish Cup commitments.

The restructure was brought in over the summer at the request of the majority of clubs to revitalise and increase the intensity and standard of rugby on show below the two professional outfits.

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In Group 1 - the top eight from Premier 1 - all teams will retain their points from the first 11 games of the season and play each other a further once each. Melrose head into this phase on top with 46 points after their weekend win at Stirling County, while Hawick snatched the eighth place after a derby win over Selkirk.

The winners of Group 1 will be crowned Premier One champions with two other teams joining them in next season's British & Irish Cup. In an intriguing move, the professional players drafted by the bottom four Premier 1 clubs will be re-allocated among the eight teams comprising Group 1.

Group 2 will be made up of the bottom four from Premier 1 and the top four from Premier 2. These teams will all start again on zero points, with the top four finishers taking up places in Premier 1 in 2011/12. As such this means that there is the possibility that no teams will be relegated or promoted, but on the flipside four Premier 2 teams could move up.

At the commencement of Group 3, comprising the remainder of the sides in Premier 2, all teams will retain their points from the first part of the season. The bottom two will be relegated to Premier 3 with Kelso and GHA currently filling these positions.

The close season saw mixed views expressed about the new format in clubhouses up and down the country and that seems still to be the case. The players in general seem to be enjoying it as they feel it has made matches more competitive.

Simon Cross, the Edinburgh Accies head coach, has led his side to 10 wins from 11 in his first term as a Premiership coach and although he knows side now face tougher tests in Group 2 than in Premier 2 it is something he is looking forward to.

"In general I think the new format will raise the level of club rugby in Scotland and that is what it was brought in to do.Sure, some people may feel that Accies would rather have continued on with a normal Premier 2 campaign because that would give us the best chance of promotion, but as coaches and players we want to test ourselves against Premier 1 clubs.

"From my own point of view I am looking forward to seeing how the three groups pan out and I still believe that Premier 1 teams who have finished in the bottom four will head into matches with ourselves, Gala, Aberdeen Grammar and Peebles from Premier 2 as favourites," the former Edinburgh captain said.

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In terms of the negative views expressed, some feel that not having a full fixture list at the start of the season will have been a hindrance to those supporters who like to know when home matches are a long time in advance and will therefore hit crowd figures.

There is also a concern regarding the groups that not every club will have played nine home matches and nine away come the end of the campaign, thus impacting on bar takings and club events as well as putting some clubs at a disadvantage on the field. The fixtures released today will try and guard against this as much as possible, but given the nature of the split it is feasible that a team could play another team at home or away for a second time.

Group 1: Melrose, Glasgow Hawks, Ayr, Heriot's, Currie, Dundee HSFP, Boroughmuir, Hawick.

Group 2: Stirling County, West of Scotland, Watsonians, Selkirk, Edinburgh Accies, Gala, Aberdeen Grammar, Peebles.

Group 3: Jed-Forest, Hillhead/Jordanhill, Falkirk, Biggar, Stewart's Melville, Kirkcaldy, Kelso, GHA.

Group 1, 2 and 3 fixture dates: 13 November, 20 November, 27 November, 4 December, 29 January, 19 February, 2 April.