The new format will deliver greater competition and excitement for players and supporters alike during what will be a more intensive season and will work in conjunction within the present league structure of 3 Divisions.
Under the new structure, AIB League Division 1 will be split into two Sections of 8 teams each on a meritocracy basis, with all teams playing each other on a home and away basis each season. The top three teams in Section A and the top team in Section B at the end of the season will go forward to the play-offs for the overall title of 'AIB League Division 1 Champions'. This format will deliver greater intensity of competition across the sixteen teams which will further increase the quality of the matches.
It is also expected that the new AIB League Division 1 format will provide more competitive game time for young aspiring professional players and a critical assessment tool for elite player progression from clubs to professional ranks.
The IRFU took the decision to make this alteration based on the desire to deliver a fresh, competitive and most importantly quality competition as the pinnacle for the domestic game.
The IRFU undertook an extensive consultation with clubs in relation to the structure of the League during the 2006-07 Season. While the majority of clubs wished to retain the league in its present format of 3 divisions of sixteen, a majority of Division 1 Clubs expressed the need for a change to the format of Division 1.
The AIB League is the flagship competition for the domestic game and the IRFU's vision is that it will provide top end participation for the best club players and teams in Ireland while also retaining the more traditional community centric "Club Ethos".
The overall structure of the AIB League in relation to the size and number of Divisions will be retained and therefore this modification to Division 1 will not affect the status of any club presently involved in the AIB League.
The detail of the new AIB League Division 1 format is:
? AIB League Division 1 divided into 2 sections of 8 clubs, designated Sections A and B (Sections determined on Division 1 League table ranking at end of 2008-9 season)
? Sections to play home and away matches (14 matches per team) with the existing points system in place to rank the teams at the conclusion of the sectional matches (4 points for win, 1 point for draw, bonus points for 4 try/losing within 7 points)
? AIB League Division 1 final contested by knockout competition as follows:
- 1st Team Section A v 3rd Team Section A
- 2nd Team Section A v 1st Team Section B
- Final to determine AIB League Champion contested between winners of play offs
? Promotion and Relegation to occur as follows:
- Section A bottom two teams relegated to Section B
- Section B top two teams promoted to Section A
- Section B bottom two teams relegated to Division 2
- Division 2 top two teams promoted to Division 1 Section B
The new format ensures that every team in Section A and Section B of Division 1 have the opportunity to play for the title of AIB League Champions, irrespective of what section they are placed in. This will provide each club with a competitive goal throughout the season. The promotion and relegation format also retains the ability for clubs to move up and down freely between all AIB League divisions. The final composition of the Division 1 Sections will be based on performance in this year's AIB League, giving as equal an opportunity for competing clubs as possible.
The IRFU remains committed to the current structure of the League, i.e. 3 divisions of sixteen teams. The next review of the AIB League structure will take place after the end of the 2009-10 season. Any changes arising out of that review will be implemented in the 2011-12 season.
Commenting on the announcement, Philip Browne, Chief Executive, IRFU said, "Our focus over the next four years is on delivering quality at all levels of Domestic Rugby in terms of competitions, coaching, facilities and support. This new format will deliver a higher quality of competition throughout the season which is what the majority of clubs want to get from the league."
"Strategically, the Domestic Game is the key component of Irish Rugby as it is the heartland of our sport where all our players and the vast majority of our volunteers come from. This new Division 1 format is the first in a number of developments that we will deliver to strengthen and grow the club game over the next four years."
Maurice Crowley, General Manager, AIB said, "The new format of the AIB League Division 1 is a positive step for the competition and we are fully supportive of both the IRFU and the clubs in this development. We look forward to working with them both over the next two seasons to further cement our relationship with grassroots rugby in Ireland."