Andy Robinson and Sir Ian McGeechan will return to Scotland, Nick Campbell could face his old club-mates and Gordon Ross could renew acquaintances with one of his first coaches.
These are among the highlights of the draw for the forthcoming season’s British & Irish Cup which was announced today.
Four Scottish clubs – the top four finishers in last season’s RBS Premier Division – are among the 24 teams from across the British Isles competing in the British & Irish Cup. The Scottish teams are Ayr, Gala, newcomers Edinburgh Accies; and Stirling County, with a fifth, London Scottish, competing from the English Championship. Our picture below shows Mark Bennett in action for Stiring County in last season's home tie against Bedford.
Ayr are drawn in Pool 6 with Cornish Pirates, Ulster Ravens and Jersey. Gala are in Pool 5 with Bristol Rugby, Leeds Carnegie and the top-ranked team from Wales (which will be determined after a qualifying competition at the end of August/beginning of September). Edinburgh Accies are in Pool 2 with London Welsh, London Scottish and Wales 2; and Stirling County are in Pool 4 with Munster A, Nottingham Rugby and Plymouth Albion.
Scottish Rugby’s Head of Clubs and Schools Nick Rennie said: “What a draw! The British & Irish Cup is a great competition which exposes our clubs to a higher intensity, not only on the pitch, which is well documented, but off the pitch too, whether in terms of logistics and what it takes on the medical, analysis and PR and marketing sides. Good luck to all our teams.”
The common theme from the Scottish clubs reacting to today’s news was the excitement that the competition generates and the desire to embrace the opportunity the B&I Cup represents to drive up standards with a consequential benefit for the game in Scotland.
Bob Easson, director of rugby at Edinburgh Accies said: “It’s an exciting draw. We are working really hard to continue to professionalise the set-up at Accies and this (competition) gives us the opportunity to challenge the players and ourselves.
“It gives the players the chance to benchmark themselves and experience rugby at a higher level and the fact we are going to be playing against a number of people we know quite well – whether the Jim Thompsons of this world at London Scottish or Gogs (Gordon Ross) who’s a player/coach at London Welsh – will just add to the occasion.
“Gordon was the first 10 I coached with Ally Donaldson all those years ago at Edinburgh so I’ll be looking forward on a personal level to resurrecting that link.”
George Graham, the Gala coach, believes his team can improve upon their form in last season’s B&I Cup.
“We had a baptism of fire when we played Llanelli down in Wales last season but we learned from it, especially the importance of speed and accuracy.
“Speed and getting back into position quickly, coupled with intensity at the breakdown were the areas that stood out for me and if you don’t compete in those areas, then teams will run riot against you.”
As far as their pool opposition this season Graham said: “Leeds (with Sir Ian McGeechan back at the helm) and Bristol have always been in the upper reaches of the English Championship and with Andy Robinson at Bristol then they’ll just keep getting better.
“We do have quite a big pack and I’ll be asking the players to learn from the experience last season. We’ll be determined to up our performance.”
Peter Laverie, Ayr’s assistant coach, was equally upbeat about their draw and reflected on their past involvement in the competition.
“What we discovered in the British & Irish Cup, especially against English sides, was that you have to match the physicality straight away and that if you do that you give yourselves a chance.
“It’s a competition that the players love because they are tested and it’s something different from the regularity of league competition.”
Laverie noted that Ayr, Scotland’s champion club, have worked hard off the pitch as well as on it, and the prospect of, for example, Ulster Ravens coming to Millbrae given the close geographic ties could generate a cracking atmosphere.
Graeme Young, Stirling County’s head coach, referenced the value of his team’s involvement in last season’s British & Irish Cup, citing the difference in conditioning as one of the key challenges that Scottish clubs had to address.
“You can watch professional rugby on TV as a young player but until you face players head-to-head you won’t necessarily understand the conditioning and physicality required.
“The difference between us and the top end of the English championship was a couple of levels, particularly on the conditioning side last season. At the end of the day if our guys are going to become better rugby players they have to be exposed to a higher level.”
Weekend of 12 October
Pool 2: London Welsh v London Scottish; Edinburgh Accies v Wales 2
Pool 4: Munster A v Stirling County
Pool 5: Gala v Wales 1
Pool 6: Jersey v Ayr
Weekend of 19 October
Pool 2: London Scottish v Edinburgh Accies
Pool 4: Stirling County v Plymouth Albion
Pool 5 Leeds Carnegie v Gala
Pool 6 Ayr v Cornish Pirates
Weekend of 7 December
Pool 2: Wales 2 v London Scottish; London Welsh v Edinburgh Accies
Pool 4 Stirling County v Nottingham Rugby
Pool 5 Bristol Rugby v Gala
Pool 6: Ayr v Ulster Ravens
Weekend of 14 December
Pool 2: London Scottish v Wales 2; Edinburgh Accies v London Welsh
Pool 4: Nottingham Rugby v Stirling County
Pool 5: Gala v Bristol Rugby
Pool 6: Ulster Ravens v Ayr
Weekend of 11 January
Pool 2 Edinburgh Accies v London Scottish
Pool 4: Plymouth Albion v Stirling County
Pool 5: Gala v Leeds Carnegie
Pool 6: Cornish Pirates v Ayr
Weekend of 18 January
Pool 2: London Scottish v London Welsh; Wales 2 v Edinburgh Accies
Pool 4: Stirling County v Munster A
Pool 5: Wales 1 v Gala
Pool 6: Ayr v Jersey
Quarter-finals: 5 April. Semi-finals: 26 April. Final: 24 May (all dates weekend of ).