Coaches warm to new league format

SCOTTISH clubs have received their league fixtures for the second half of the season a day late, but coaches are welcoming the new split format.

After a delay caused by the championship committee waiting to reach an agreement, the fixtures show that the vast majority of clubs will finish the season having played the same number of home and away games. As the clubs voted to go down this route there are no real dissenters at this stage, but there will inevitably be complaints as some clubs have matches away from home with teams that they have already played away from home this season to even up their total number of home and away games.

The format has Scotland's Premier 1 and 2 divisions divided into three groups of eight, entitled Premier A, B and C, with the Premier A sides competing for the Premier 1 title and the three British and Irish cup qualification places for the 2011/12 cross-border competition.

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The Premier B sides will all be bidding for four slots in next season's Premier 1 championship. All start with zero points.

The top Premier 2 side after those fixtures are finished will also be crowned the Premier 2 league champions.

The eight clubs in Premier C will compete to avoid relegation, with the two bottom-placed teams dropping into Premier 3 for next season.

As determined by the clubs themselves, who were keen for continuity, the new fixtures will run through the November internationals window and the Six Nations period to the start of April, the final round taking place on the day before Gala Sevens kick off the spring sevens circuit in the Borders.

Colin Thomson, the SRU's head of community rugby, said: "Scottish Rugby and Scotland's Premier clubs shared the need to improve the standard and intensity of Scotland's club game and to create a competition structure that would complement the successful introduction of the British and Irish Cup.

"The widespread opinion of players, coaches and officials is that the first half of the season has been a resounding success. Each of the first 11 matches are crucial to a team's placement in the split which challenged the players week in week out and saw both Premier 1 and 2 go right to the wire as clubs vied for position. We look forward to yet another step up in competitive intensity as the teams prepare to mount their challenge for championships, a chance to play in the British & Irish Cup, one of the four slots available to play in Premier 1 next season or indeed to avoid relegation."

Kenny Murray, head coach of Ayr, added: "The new league format has brought excitement and anticipation to Premier 1 with every game having significant importance for the teams. The seven games after the split will provide a cup-final feel to every game and will no doubt make for some great contests." The league takes a break this weekend, however, as the new-look cup competition kicks off with nine pools of four teams starting. The league resumes on Saturday 13 November, but with early kick-offs to avoid clashing with Scotland's international against New Zealand.