Club Rugby In Ireland Set For Major Overhaul As New AIL Structure Revealed

New lease of life.

Club Rugby in Ireland is set for a new lease of life and perhaps a return to the glory years with plans for a new AIL structure revealed.

As reported by The Irish Independent, in changes scheduled to kick in for the 2019-20 season, the new format will see two divisions of eight at the top – Premiership 1 and Premiership 2 – followed by two Championship Divisions, each of eight clubs, and then two Conference Divisions, also of eight clubs each.

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The clubs were sent details of the new format on Friday following ratification at a IRFU committee meeting on Thursday evening and a final consultation process will start next month.

“At the top end, it’s planned initially to ensure representation from the four provinces of at least two clubs across the two the Premiership Divisions, and that they would be ring-fenced for two seasons.” Brendan Fanning writes

“Thereafter, their make-up would be determined solely via promotion and relegation. Having a provincial spread allows for the respective provinces’ academy players to be involved, which is central to the plan to align the proposed ‘Premiership’ with the professional game.”

“In the absence of the now-discontinued B&I Cup, the schedule would see a new ‘A team’ competition between Irish provinces and Welsh regions played over September/October, followed by the AIL in which there would be no restriction on the number of contracted players involved. The IRFU will fund the new format in which the IRFU’s regulation 6, regarding inducements to players, will be rewritten.”

“The Premiership and Championship Divisions will be played on a national basis, but the plan for Conference Divisions is to structure them fresh each season to avoid long-distance travel for clubs who can’t afford it.”

This will be welcome news to those who feel a strong club game is the best feeder system you can provide for the provinces. Many feel the British & Irish Cup was nothing more than a ‘plastic’ competition that acted more like a ‘simulator’ for professional rugby rather than a breeding ground like the AIL.

Mick Galwey, speaking back in 2016, reckons players need to ‘learn their trade’ in the battleground that is club rugby.

“The club really was the feeder for the inter-provincial game which is now the professional game. And when the clubs go weak, there’s no feeders.” Galwey said

“Then you’re depending on schools. And I think there’s too much of a gap. If you look at the strongest feeders to the professional game now, it’s the schools. Whereas before, it was the clubs and I thought it was a much better system.”

“I was finished playing when Munster won their first Heineken Cup in 2006 and the previous week Shannon won the All-Ireland League. You know, that’s not a coincidence. The club game produced all these players that won Heineken Cups for Munster. The teams in 2006 and 2008, each and everyone of them played for their clubs, each and everyone of them played in the top level in the AIL. And I’d say if you go through it, most of them would have won AIL. That was their grounding, that was where they learned the trade to play rugby.”

The new format also sounds like it has a bit of a Mitre 10 Cup feel to it. And to be fair – New Zealand’s system has worked out pretty damn well for them. We’ve long been advocates for a return to the club rugby of old so we’re absolutely delighted.