Newcastle Falcons face home dates with London Irish and Newport Gwent Dragons, and away trips to Gloucester and Saracens, in the group stages of the LV= Cup.
The Anglo-Welsh competition has retained the baffling format which sees teams not playing against the other sides in their own group which, in Newcastle’s case, are Northampton Saints, London Wasps and the Scarlets.
Instead, points gained from their four matches against teams in a parallel pool will be matched against teams from their own group – the top-ranked team in each then progressing through to the semi-final.
The final will be held on March 16 at a venue yet to be confirmed, the Falcons’ rich tradition of cup rugby seeing them beaten finalists in 2010 and winners of the tournament’s precursor in 2001 and 2004.
Recent seasons have seen the LV Cup used predominantly as a development competition for upcoming and fringe talent; Harlequins are holders after beating Sale Sharks in last season’s final.
That was watched by a crowd of just 8,100 in Worcester, a far cry from the 71,000 who were in attendance for the Falcons’ 2001 triumph at Twickenham when a Dave Walder try saw them lift the Tetley’s Bitter Cup – at that stage still a straight knock-out competition reserved strictly for English clubs.
This year’s event sees the exact dates still to be nailed down, but the Falcons know they will open up at home to London Irish on the weekend of November 8-10, a game which has not been selected for live TV broadcast. Round two has them at Gloucester on the weekend of November 15-17, up against a Cherry and Whites squad containing former Newcastle captain James Hudson and ex-forwards coach Paul Moriarty.
The third weekend of the group phase, held between January 24-26, throws up a trip to Saracens, who in recent seasons have played some of their LV Cup games at Bedford, the side Newcastle beat in last season’s RFU Championship final.
The Falcons’ group games come to a climax at home to Newport Gwent Dragons, the Welsh outfit travelling north to Kingston Park on the weekend of January 31 to February 1-2. The semi-finals will then be staged on the weekend of March 7-9, with a former Falcons’ director of rugby welcoming the presence of the competition.
Rob Andrew, mastermind of the club’s 2001 and 2004 successes as well as their 1999 loss to London Wasps in the final, said: “We have seen the LV= Cup develop as a crucial competition for up and coming new talent over the past few seasons, as evident through players such as Jack Nowell, who was crucial in England U20s’ Junior World Championship triumph.
“I’m sure the competition will again identify some promising young talent this season, and ones that we will undoubtedly see on the international stage in the years to come.”
Meanwhile, Hartlepool’s Aaron Myers helped Great Britain’s Sevens team take bronze at the World Student Games in Russia, scoring a try in their 31-14 victory over South Africa in the third-placed play-off.
The former West Hartlepool and Westoe man, now playing his rugby at National One Wharfedale, has represented England in the abbreviated code, as well as helping Newcastle Falcons win the 2011 JP Morgan Premiership Sevens.
Newcastle will finally get to defend that crown this season thanks to their promotion back into the top flight, playing in the group event in Northampton on Friday August 2 before the finals in Bath a week later.
The draw for the Durham County Senior Cup has been made, despite the competition having had no winner for the past three seasons. Blaydon kick off on August 24 with a home quarter-final against West Hartlepool. The winner of that will travel to Westoe or Durham City in the semis, the other side of the draw seeing Darlington hosting Stockton, and Horden travelling to Billingham.