MELROSE and Gala learned this week who they will be up against in this season’s British & Irish Cup competition.
Last year, the tournament was a real puzzle to players, clubs and fans alike.
The RFU south of the border had come up with a cunning plan to have pools with teams in it, but then decided that it would be a good idea for none of the teams to actually play each other.
This time, though, common sense has prevailed and each team in the eight four-team pools will play each other home and away with the top club from each group going through to the quarter-finals of the knockout competition. The net result is that 32 of the best teams in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales will battle it out in a tournament that is easy to market and the punters and media can get behind.
Gala have a very attractive draw and will welcome London Scottish, Llanelli and Moseley to Netherdale, as well as visiting those famous clubs throughout the season. Melrose have been drawn with Nottingham, Doncaster and Llandovery.
Actual dates are yet to be decided (apart from the last match on January 19) as all other games will be played over specific weekends, but hopefully there will be some Friday night games at Netherdale and Sunday afternoon matches at The Greenyards so that the whole of the Borders can get behind the region’s top teams as well as supporting their own on Saturday afternoons.
The first weekend of B&I Cup business will be between October 12 and 14 when Gala are at home to London Scottish and Melrose will travel to take on Doncaster Knights. The following week will see Melrose entertaining Llandovery with Gala away to Llanelli.
Melrose coach Craig Chalmers said: “It’s a good group and while maybe not as glamorous as the last few years when we took on the likes of Leinster, we believe it’s a pool we can win.”
“It helps to play the higher intensity games in this competition. It helps focus the mind and drives players’ standards up. We hope to be able to take these standards into our league games.”
Gala boss George Graham has certainly got some glamour ties to look forward to this season with London Scottish (who have Phil Godman and Jim Thompson among several high-profile signings) and Llanelli in their pool.
“This is a reward for all the hard work put in by my boys last season,” he commented.
“It will give them all an idea of where they are as players. Competing at a high level in Scottish rugby is one thing, but to play against semi-professional and professional sides will give us an understanding of where we are and the work we need to do.”
Dundee HSFP and Stirling County are the other two Scottish representatives in the competition.
Local fixtures are as follows:
Oct 12-14: Gala v London Scottish; Doncaster v Melrose
Oct 19-21: Llanelli v Gala; Melrose v Llandovery
Dec 7-9: Gala v Moseley; Nottingham v Melrose
Dec 14-16: Moseley v Gala; Melrose v Nottingham
Jan 11-13: Gala v Llanelli; Llandovery v Melrose
Jan 19: London Scottish v Gala; Melrose v Doncaster