Say hello to the Connacht Eagles. From next season Connacht will be joining Ulster, Leinster and Munster in the British and Irish Cup with a development side that could form a key part in their hopes of becoming a genuine competitive force in the battle finish among the top three Irish sides in the Rabo Direct Pro 12.
The ‘Eagles’ (as they will reportedly be known) have been given a bumper draw for their first outing in the competition with Dean Richard’s Newcastle side the first visitors to the west having been demoted from the Premiership at the end of last season and therefore qualifying for a competition that includes the top club sides from Wales and Scotland.
Last year’s runners up Cross Keys and the highly rated Newport are the other two sides in what looks like the toughest group and Connacht are expected to play two of their three home games in locations other than Galway with sources suggesting the home of Sligo Rovers being a possible destination.
Pic: Sporting Occasions
Having just completed a full season of challenge fixtures at A level , Connacht have been given the go-ahead by the IRFU to field a full side at this level and will hope to use their Grand Slam winning under 20 squad of last season as a platform to build a competitive squad at this level.
The implications at club level are not yet clear but the competition is designed not to directly interfere with games played on the same weekends as Heineken Cup games and not clashing with the AIL as a result, the hope will be that development players will be able to get the best of both worlds over the course of a season.
Ulster have drawn Cardiff, Bristol and Bridgend. Leinster will be up against Leeds, Pontypridd and Jersey.
Reigning champions Munster will take on Gala, Llanelli and Moseley.
Pool 4 Fixtures
Round 1: Newcastle Falcons v Cross Keys and Newport v Connacht Round 2: Connacht v Newcastle Falcons and Cross Keys v Newport Round 3: Cross Keys v Connacht and Newcastle Falcons v Newport Round 4: Connacht v Cross Keys and Newport v Newcastle Falcons Round 5: Newcastle Falcons v Connacht and Newport v Cross Keys Round 6: Connacht v Newport and Cross Keys v Newcastle Falcons
The pool games will take place as follows:
Round 1 – 12-14 October; Round 2 – 19-21 October; Round 3 – 7-9 December; Round 4 – 14-16 December; Round 5 – 11-13 January; and Round 6 – 19 January.