Following the introduction of a play-off championship last season in addition to the regular league season, the structure of the season has been reviewed by the WRU’s Performance and Development unit, in conjunction with the Principality Premiership clubs.
There will be fewer play-off games but each of those games will have a significant effect on league positions and British and Irish Cup qualification.
At the end of the normal league season, the top three clubs will play-off to determine the season’s Principality Premiership champion club. Second in the league will play third at the home ground of Club 2, the winner of which will play the club that topped the league at either a neutral venue decided by the WRU or the home club of Club 1.
Clubs will be battling it out throughout the season to finish in the top five as those five clubs will automatically qualify for the British and Irish Cup. Meanwhile, the clubs who finish in sixth to eighth place will play-off to determine Wales’ sixth participant in the cross-border competition, with seventh playing eighth at the home ground of Club 7 and the winner of that game playing Club 6 for that final spot, either at a neutral venue decided by the WRU or at the home ground of Club 6.
At the bottom of the table too there will be a play-off structure for relegation from and promotion to the Principality Premiership, subject to clubs meeting the Premiership criteria (Licence A or B).
The club finishing fourteenth will go into a draw with the clubs who win SWALEC Division One East, West and either the winner of Division One North or RGC 1404, subject to all those clubs meeting the criteria. If the winners of these Divisions and RGC 1404 do not hold a Licence A or B by January 31 2011, there will be no play-off matches and the fourteenth placed club in the Principality Premiership will remain in the division. Any club in the Principality Premiership which fails to meet the Licence B criteria by January 31 2011 will be relegated even if no Division One club is promoted.
The draw, subject to all clubs meeting criteria is as follows:
The winners of Division One East, Division One West and either the winner of Division One North or RGC 1404 and the 14th club will enter a draw to determine which clubs play which in Play Off matches one and two. The winners of Play Off matches One and Two will progress to play each other in Play Off Three to decide which club will take its place in the Principality Premiership in season 2011/12. All of these play-offs will be played at neutral venues decided by the WRU.
WRU Head of Rugby, Performance and Development Joe Lydon said, “We have reviewed the first season of play-offs within Premiership rugby and found that they greatly helped to keep the competition alive right through to the end of the season with clubs vying to finish in the top four to earn an automatic place in the British and Irish Cup, and in the top eight to earn a right to challenge for the final two Welsh slots in that competition. Llandovery was a great example as they finished in eighth position and still managed to perform well in the play-offs to take up a place.
“However, after consulting with the clubs, we were conscious of the demand on clubs and players and these amends to the play-off system have a number of advantages. Firstly, the changes mean a reduced number of games on the fixture list for Principality Premiership clubs and an increased competitiveness of the Play-Off matches themselves with the winner of the grand final being crowned Principality Premiership champion and the final British and Irish Cup place going to the winner of the British and Irish Cup qualification play-off.
“At the bottom end of the table too we see a change with the champions of SWALEC Divisions One East and West, and the north Wales champion, subject to criteria, having a chance to compete for a place in the Premiership. It was our stated objective to give north Wales rugby a chance to compete at this level of the game and provided they prove themselves on the field, and off the field with the financial and administrative standards required, they have that potential opportunity, along with the winners of Divisions One East and One West.”
WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis said, “The Principality Premiership is a crucial piece of Welsh rugby’s international player development pathway and the changes introduced for this season will enhance that status.
“I sincerely thank Principality Building Society for their continued support of this vital tier of Welsh rugby, in this, their fifth season as title sponsors of this league which gives important game time and valuable experience to our professional players of the future.
“The 2010 /11season looks set to be one to remember and I know that any new supporters who step onto the terraces and into the stands will be richly rewarded with great rugby to watch.”
Colin Lewis, Head of Business Change at Principality Building Society, said: “The introduction of the play-offs last year was designed to increase both the competitiveness of the league as well as the standard of play, and these further changes demonstrate the WRU’s continued commitment to achieving this vision.
“By working with the clubs, listening to their feedback and challenging the structure of the league, we are confident that the Principality Premiership will continue to be the breeding ground for Welsh rugby, forging increasingly stronger links with regional rugby and beyond.”
Principality Premiership Champion Club Play-Offs
Play-Off One: Club 2 v Club 3 (at home of Club 2)
Play-Off final: Winner of Play-Off One v Club 1 (either at neutral venue or home of Club 1)
British and Irish Cup qualification Play-Offs
Play-Off One: Club 7 v Club 8
British and Irish Cup qualification Play-Off Final:
Winner of Play-Off One v Club 6 (either at neutral venue or home of Club 6)
Relegation / Promotion Play-Offs
Play-Off One and Two: Subject to meeting criteria, a draw will be made to determine make-up of two matches involving 14th placed club in Principality Premiership, winners of SWALEC Division One East and West and Winners of Division One North or RGC 1404. Note: if one or more of the clubs in question do not gain Licence A or B by January 31 in the Premiership criteria process, there may only be one play-off at this stage or none. If three clubs meet the criteria, a draw will be made to determine which clubs play-off, the winner of which will play the other club in the play-off final.
Play-Off final: Winners of Play-Offs One and Two or Winner of Play-Off One v other club. There may be no Play-Off final if only one club meets the criteria.