Rugby: Club league revamp in the pipeline

INTENSE competition for three places in a British and Irish Cup are at the heart of plans for a radically-revised club fixture structure to be put before Scottish Rugby's annual meeting on Saturday, 26 June at Murrayfield.

The format would see the top two premiership divisions of 12 teams play off once before re-convening on the basis of three divisions of eight with points carrying over.

Unlike previous seasons, under-20 and academy players would be continually available in the first half of the season as opposed to being withdrawn to work on conditioning and play representative fixtures while fringe players from Edinburgh and Glasgow would continue to be drafted but only to Division One after the split. Four teams would be promoted between the top two tiers and the B&I Cup appears here to stay with the draw for 2010-11 expected imminently with the composite Gael Force side disbanded in favour of a third club team.

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In a major policy switch a united approach is being taken to ensure an environment that will produce higher-quality players, while retaining the ethos of the domestic game.

Catering for both social players and the ambitious was cited as a reason why the premiership could not be endorsed as purely part of the performance element.

But all 36 current premiership teams would take part in a national cup based on nine pools of four with those ranked eighth and ninth playing off for a quarter-final spot.

Speaking at a Murrayfield briefing, Steve Gemmell (SRU Player Development head) said: "There is a need for us to use the clubs as a developmental vehicle."

Asked about the introduction of the B&I Cup after years of cross-border opportunities being resisted by the SRU, head of community rugby Colin Thomson said: "All four unions have agreed a B&I Cup as of this week.

"The next stage is to get the draw which will happen imminently. It is very much part of this (structure). It was an outstanding decision (to introduce it). Two club teams in it was right and next season with three club teams it is another step up.

"It is a Scottish trait to want to be a big fish in a small pool but this is a great opportunity to get rid of that trait."

Under the scheme the premiership season will kick off on Saturday, 21 August with the Cup Final bringing down the curtain on Saturday, 16 April.