AS competitive grassroots rugby returns this weekend for the first time since March 2020, it has been announced that a new competition involving the Indigo Group Premiership teams will start in September.

The Indigo Group Premiership Cup sees the league’s 12 sides divided into two pools of six for a tournament to kick-start the 2021/22 top-flight season.

Newport and Ebbw Vale feature alongside Merthyr, Pontypridd, Cardiff and RGC in the East group, while the West includes Llanelli, Aberavon, Bridgend, Carmarthen Quins, Llandovery and Swansea.

The initial stages of the competition will be on a home and away basis to find the top two sides from each group.

The West winner hosts the East runners-up in one semi-final, and the other semi sees the East winner entertain the West runners-up, with the date and venue of the final to be confirmed.

“The key for us has been to get people back playing rugby,” said WRU head of participation Geraint John.

“A lot of time and effort has gone into ensuring the top end of our club game can return to action in a safe environment.

“Finally, the players and coaches have something tangible to focus on and we can all now look forward to seeing some exciting derbies which I’m sure will give fans something to shout about at long last.”

Ian Cole-Wilkins, CEO of Indigo Group, added: “We are pleased to be finally welcoming clubs back after a long and challenging 18 months.

“The new West and East cup competition format to start in September gives local supporters the chance to see the players stir up some long-standing rivalries.

“Indigo Group will continue to support clubs with their return to rugby and we look forward to getting to some of the games.”

Jon Jones, chairman of the Indigo Group Premiership clubs and Ebbw Vale, expressed relief that a date has now been set in concrete – September 18 – to get the players back on the pitch.

And he is hoping the derbies will see fans pouring back through the turnstiles.

“Having a cup competition at the beginning of the season is something different, but we’re obviously looking forward to it because we haven’t played for over 18 months by the time we kick-off,” he said.

“We’re really enthusiastic to get back to playing and that is a message from all the Indigo Group Premiership clubs.

“It’s really important to have that start date set now – we’ve not even got close to it before so it’s great to know when we’re going to start, and we’ve all got friendly fixtures lined up to lead into the competition.”

Jones added that the Indigo Group Premiership has had to follow certain protocols before having a start date confirmed.

“Training has already started for the clubs, but we need a bigger lead-in than some of the community clubs for obvious reasons,” he added.

“We have got to get a lot of things in place and it gives us time to do that to make sure the players are ready.

“It’s been a long time without contact so there are concerns from the medical side of things and that is why it has been managed in the way it has and why we are starting later than the community game.”

Jones added: “This will be a chance to see some live rugby. It’s good for the clubs and good for atmosphere, and I think everybody needs that after what we have been through as a society – everybody needs something different to the garden.

“It’s a chance for the Indigo Group Premiership clubs to continue to show what they can do – that is why we would be really pleased to get more people through the gates because I think as people come they will want to come again.”

Saturday sees the Championship Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield get under way, with the matches marking the return of community rugby in Wales after nearly 18 months away because of Covid-19.