NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Will Chudley of Exeter passes the ball during the Aviva A League Final between Northampton Wanderers and Exeter Braves at Franklin's Gardens on April 30, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Premiership Rugby have undertaken more changes in the build-up to the 2018/19 season. As well as a new sponsor for the Gallagher Premiership, and alterations to the Anglo-Welsh Cup; now called the Premiership Rugby Cup, the third tier competition will be rebranded as the Premiership Rugby Shield.

Subtle changes, with different names but with the same emphasis as always. On developing and promoting the best rugby union from English Rugby. The revamped competition will continue to provide a pathway for young players to achieve future Gallagher Premiership Rugby success.

Premiership Rugby Shield

Described in an Premiership Rugby media release as ‘exciting changes, as last year’s A League becomes the Premiership Rugby Shield’. This year’s Shield competition will consist of two conferences of six teams from North and South – with the fixtures available here. The home-and-away format, will build-up to a cross-conference semi-final and final in May 2019.

Premiership Rugby Shield 2018/19

Rugby director at Premiership Rugby, Phil Winstanley, described the changes in detail. He answered questions in an media release. Asked ‘are you looking forward to the 2018/19 Premiership Rugby Shield?’ Paul Winstanley (PW) responded, ” Very much so, it gives us an opportunity with a new name and a revitalised brand to help play a crucial role in the development of our young players.

“It’s really important that players are developing inside the clubs themselves, there’s always a chance to go out on loan and learn their trade in a different environment but equally it’s important to be competing in a club shirt and in a club environment and this year gives them the opportunity to do that.

How does the Premiership Rugby Shield develop player pathways?

PW: As I say it’s very important that players develop within a club environment, that people grow up in an environment, see first-team players around and feel affiliated to the shirt and the club brand. From that perspective I feel it’s absolutely vital as a connection from the youth systems up into the senior programme and beyond.

How important is it for young players to test themselves at a higher level in the Premiership Rugby Shield?

PW: It’s incredibly important. We have a young demographic within the Shield environment with the vast majority of players under 22 or 23 years old. These guys have developed through the age grades, we get a number of England Under-20s and they’re taking that next step into senior rugby.

We’ve seen over the last couple of years international players maybe not be quite getting into first-team squads and they need games of rugby or they’re returning from injury – the Premiership Rugby Shield is a great opportunity for youngsters to test themselves in that environment; and against senior players.

Is fitting the schedule in with England Under-20 matches a key aspect?

PW: It always is, there’s no doubt whatsoever that we need to be developing and working in partnership with the RFU and we’ve done that very well for the last few years. Dean Ryan came in (to the RFU) a couple of years ago and Jim Mallinder is now there, Steve Bates too. All of them have been Premiership Rugby Directors of Rugby and have vast experience and it’s important that we work closely with them.

We schedule games away from the international calendar so that coaches can prepare the players and we avoid European weeks because very often in the second tier of Europe a lot of the younger players will get opportunities. We also avoid the Premiership Rugby Cup weeks because it’s important that if senior players are rested that there’s an opportunity provided for the younger lads to step up.

How does the competition help develop coaches?

PW: The teams in this competition have tended to be run by academy coaches, it gives them the opportunity to step outside of their regular environment to compete and prepare teams against more senior players. What we tend to find is that a lot of clubs give opportunity to those coaches to then go and coach in the Premiership Rugby Cup with senior teams and give them the ability to develop as well.

When asked will this season’s competition be much different to 2017/18? Paul Winstanley answered, “I think it will be a higher profile competition this year and that will add an edge to things, I suspect we’ll see some very strong teams put out in the Premiership Rugby Shield, and therefore stronger competition.

We’ve seen some fantastic opportunities for the England players out in the World Rugby Under-20s Championship, playing in front of considerable crowds, that’s all part of the education process and we hope to continue it.

Tom Stephenson (C) and Ben Nutley the Northampton Wanderers receive the trophy from Premiership Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty (L) after their victory during the Aviva A League Final on April 30, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

With the separation of two conferences, the ‘local derby’ aspect of competition; including  a full calendar on New Years Eve, which will be attract fans during the holidays. Northampton Wanderers will look to retain their title, with challenges from Newcastle, Sale and ultimately, competition from a Southern club in the Shield final.

The first round of matches kick-off on September 3.

Premiership Rugby Shield 2018/19

  • Two conferences – six teams in the North, and six in the South
  • Each Club will play the other clubs in their conference twice; home and away
  • The top two from each conference will qualify for the Semi-Final
  • The Final shall be contested between the two winning Semi-Finalists (North v South)
  • The venue for the Premiership Rugby Shield Final shall be at the highest seeded finalist club; based on performance during the conference stages.

View the 2018/19 schedule here.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. “UK A league…” is misleading/incorrect title for this article.
    There is no UK A League. This is an England A league. If you are a rugby correspondent you should know that England is not the UK. It is only part of. The others are Scot.and and Wales

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