Premiership Rugby have today confirmed that the ‘A’ League will become the Premiership Rugby Shield in 2018/19 with the first round of fixtures scheduled for the start of September.
Leicester Tigers will kick off their campaign with a home game against Northampton Wanderers on Monday, September 3. Wanderers became back-to-back champions in the competition after beating Exeter Braves in the 2017/18 Final at Franklin’s Gardens.
The Premiership Shield will consist of two conferences of six teams.
Phil Winstanley, rugby director at Premiership Rugby, provides an update on the competition following the release of fixtures today:
Are you looking forward to the 2018/19 Premiership Rugby Shield?
PW: 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. 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 and even come up against ex-Test players 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. 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. It’s 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 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 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 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, 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 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.
Will this season’s competition be much different to 2017/18?
PW: 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 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.
Clubs will have 10 pool fixtures, played equally home and away, in the new season’s competition, with the top two from north and south qualifying for the semi-finals.
To see the full season's Premiership Rugby Shield fixtures click here.
Leicester Tigers fixtures in Premiership Shield 2018/19
September 3: Leicester Tigers v Northampton Wanderers
September 10: Leicester Tigers v Worcester Cavaliers
September 24: Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers
October 1: Sale Jets v Leicester Tigers
December 17: Leicester Tigers v Wasps
December 24: Worcester Cavaliers v Leicester Tigers
December 31: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons
April 1: Wasps v Leicester Tigers
April 8: Leicester Tigers v Sale Jets
April 22: Northampton Wanderers v Leicester Tigers