IRFU eyes domestic bliss in AIL growth
The next phase of the All-Ireland League will be confirmed this week when the IRFU ratifies an expansion of the top two tiers to 10 clubs. There will be an increase overall from 48 to 52 senior clubs across two divisions split into four sections.
The new format, which follows prolonged consultation right across the Irish game, will come into force for season 2012/'13 and will remain intact for a minimum of five seasons. The increase in teams (from eight to 10) and games (from 14 in regulation to 18) however will pose serious problems in avoiding clashes between AIL games and provincial 'A' matches.
"The 'A' games need to be scheduled in order to have a minimal impact," according to the new proposal. "The club perspective is that these games detract from the club game. The IRFU perspective is that the 'A' game is a subset of the professional game."
While the introduction of the British & Irish Cup was managed this season without encroaching on club time, it is unclear how this can be repeated in season 2012/'13 if the B&I Cup is still running then.
The new format will see the biggest number of teams involved in the AIL since it started in season 1990/'91 with 19 teams across two divisions. "The number of senior clubs should be increased by four to reflect the growth in Irish domestic rugby," the proposal said.
It is understood the IRFU has presented to three potential sponsors -- AIB wrapped up their deal this season -- and hope to tie up a new contract by the end of June.
Division 1A: 10 teams (home and away); bottom club automatically relegated; second last plays off v runner-up in Division 1B.
Division 1B: 10 teams (home and away); bottom two clubs automatically relegated
Division 2A: 16 teams (home/away); bottom two clubs automatically relegated
Division 2B: 16 teams (home/away); bottom club automatically relegated; second last plays off v runner-up in round robin from provincial leagues.