- 2017 fixtures released for men’s, women’s and U20s County Championships
- All three competitions have been restructured for the 2017 season
The fixtures for the 2017 Men’s, Women’s and U20 County Championships have been released with all three competitions having been restructured.
Introductions such as seedings for teams, changes to promotion and regulation as well as varying the tiers and match schedule will all be rolled out in 2017 to create a more level playing field across all competitions.
MEN’S COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIPS
The 2017 Men’s County Championships sees 28 counties compete with each side being seeded using results from the previous three seasons.
Each team is divided into three tiers with 12 in Tier One, 8 in Tier Two, and 8 in Tier Three.
All tiers will play a minimum of three matches and a maximum of four. This will produce three finals, all to be played at Twickenham.
Promotion and relegation will now take place every two seasons with points accumulated from season one continuing into the following season.
This means counties will have the chance to cement their position in the most appropriate pool and avoid situations where the same teams are being promoted one year only to be relegated the next.
2016 Bill Beaumont Cup winners Cornwall will compete in Tier 1’s South Pool, consisting of six teams who will each play three matches.
Cornwall will face Devon in the second round of matches in what promises to be an intriguing local derby while 2016 Shield winners Hampshire will begin their campaign in Tier Two against North Midlands.
WOMEN’S COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Following a successful inaugural competition this year, the Women’s County Championship will be expanded for 2017 with 26 teams competing across two tiers.
Defending champions Surrey will take on Berkshire in the opening match of Pool 4 while runners up Lancashire will take on Cumbria in Pool 1.
Both finals will be held on Sunday, 28 May with many of the fixtures during the competition scheduled to run alongside the men’s matches to allow for double-header opportunities.
NATIONAL U20s COMPETITION
The 2017 National U20s Competition sees the top teams from each pool in the 2015/16 Shield event promoted to the Cup while the bottom pool sides in the Cup have been relegated to the Shield.
26 teams will take part with last year’s winners Yorkshire, the most successful side in the history of the event, taking on Northumberland in the opening game – a repeat of the 2016 final in which Yorkshire won 53-20.
Shield winners Hampshire are promoted to the Cup under the new structure and will start their campaign in the top tier against Gloucestershire.
Durham, who just lost out to Hampshire in the 2016 Shield final, will also compete in the top tier alongside Yorkshire and Northumberland in Pool 1.
“County rugby provides players with an aspirational goal and focus to work towards throughout the season," said Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director.
"With the restructured Senior County Championship, teams have been seeded to ensure the appropriate level of competition across each tier, enabling counties to find, maintain and thrive at sustainable levels while ensuring the ‘big’ rivalries and traditional matches still take place.
"In line with our overarching ambition across the whole of the grassroots game, our aim is to get as many people playing at the appropriate level as possible and the new structure helps to enable this.”