Gwent rivals set for Cup clash
CROSS Keys and Newport have been drawn in the same pool in next season’s British and Irish Cup – and will lock horns with Dean Richards’ Newcastle.
The tournament has been extended to 32 clubs and will feature all 12 Principality Premiership outfits.
Gone is the somewhat strange format of teams playing others from another group; instead they face three home and three away fixtures.
The eight pool winners will progress into the knockout stages.
Keys made a real impression in their first foray into the tournament last season, causing a number of upsets on their way to the final where they were overpowered by Munster A in Cork.
They will have their work cut out to repeat those heroics as not only do they face two bruising encounters with the Black and Ambers but they must take on Connacht and Newcastle.
The Falcons are hot favourites for promotion from the English Championship following their relegation from the Aviva Premiership last season.
Getting back up to the top flight will be their priority but they boast a strong squad that will be keen to impress Richards. He has taken over as director of rugby in the north east following the end of his three-year ban for the role he played in the Bloodgate scandal when in charge of Harlequins.
The Black and Ambers did not qualify for last season’s tournament but will relish their return to the cross-border competition.
Newport’s two previous campaigns featured memorable wins against Exeter, Leinster A, Cornish Pirates and Plymouth.
Bedwas, who are in the tournament for the first time, have also been handed a tough pool after being drawn with Bedford, Neath and Stirling County.
Group fixtures will be played in October, December and January. The quarter-finals are scheduled for April 6 with the semis played three weeks later and the final on May 17.
Pool 1: Cardiff, Bridgend, Bristol, Ulster Pool 2: Bedford, Bedwas, Stirling County, Neath Pool 3: Carmarthen Q, Dundee HSFP, Cornish Pirates, Swansea Pool 4: Connacht, Cross Keys, Newport, Newcastle Pool 5: Jersey, Pontypridd, Leinster, Leeds Pool 6: Gala, Llanelli, London Scottish, Moseley Pool 7: Aberavon, Munster, Plymouth, Rotherham Pool 8: Doncaster, Llandovery, Melrose, Nottingham