THE 2011-12 British & Irish Cup will kick off with a clash of previous winners when Bristol Rugby travel to Cornish Pirates.

Bristol, who beat Bedford Blues 17-14 in last month’s final, will face inaugural 2010 holders at the Mennaye Field on Wednesday, September 21.

“Winning the British & Irish Cup last season was a major boost to the club after a challenging campaign,” said Bristol Rugby Head Coach Liam Middleton.

“We’ll be looking to defend the trophy this time round, although we expect tough opposition from Cornish Pirates, Moseley, Neath and Ayr. All four games will be fierce encounters and it should be a really exciting competition.”

With all English ties played in midweek to ease potential weekend fixture congestion, RFU Championship newcomers London Scottish start with the most local of derbies against London Welsh.

The third British & Irish Cup will see a change in format, with a cross-pool fixture list which guarantees two home fixtures for each side.

Pool 1: Ayr, Cornish Pirates, Moseley, Neath

Pool 2: Bristol Rugby, Cross Keys, Plymouth Albion, Munster

Pool 3: Aberavon, Bedford Blues, Leinster, London Scottish

Pool 4: Esher Rugby, Llanelli, London Welsh, Melrose

Pool 5: Currie, Doncaster Knights, Rotherham Titans, Pontypridd

Pool 6: Leeds Carnegie, Nottingham Rugby, Swansea, Ulster

Round 1 (September 21): Cornish Pirates v Bristol Rugby, Moseley v Plymouth, London Scottish v London Welsh, Bedford Blues v Esher Rugby, Nottingham Rugby v Doncaster Knights, Leeds Carnegie v Rotherham Titans. (November 19): Neath  v Munster, Ayr v Cross Keys, Aberavon v Llanelli, Leinster v Melrose, Currie v Ulster, Pontypridd v Swansea

Round 2 (October 12): Plymouth v Cornish Pirates, Bristol Rugby v Moseley, Esher Rugby v London Scottish, London Welsh v Bedford Blues, Doncaster Knights v Leeds Carnegie, Rotherham Titans v Nottingham Rugby. (December 10): Munster vs. Ayr, Llanelli v Leinster, Ulster v Pontypridd, Cross Keys v Neath, Melrose v Aberavon, Swansea v Currie

Round 3 (November 12):  Cross Keys v Moseley, Munster v Cornish Pirates, Bristol Rugby v Neath, Plymouth v Ayr, Melrose v Bedford Blues, Llanelli v London Scottish, London Welsh v Aberavon, Esher Rugby v Leinster, Swansea v Rotherham Titans, Ulster v Doncaster Knights, Leeds Carnegie v Currie, Nottingham Rugby v Pontypridd

Round 4 (December 17): Moseley v Munster, Cornish Pirates v Cross Keys, Neath v Plymouth, Ayr v Bristol Rugby, Bedford Blues v Llanelli, London Scottish v Melrose, Aberavon v Esher Rugby, Leinster v London Welsh, Rotherham Titans v Ulster, Doncaster Knights v Swansea, Currie v Nottingham Rugby, Pontypridd v Leeds Carnegie

Quarter finals: January 21

Semi finals: April 7

Final: April 28



* 12 English RFU Championship clubs (Bedford Blues, Bristol Rugby, Cornish Pirates, Doncaster Knights, Esher Rugby, Leeds Carnegie, London Scottish, London Welsh, Moseley, Nottingham Rugby, Plymouth Albion, Rotherham Titans)

* 6 Welsh Principality Premiership clubs (Aberavon, Cross Keys, Llanelli, Neath, Pontypridd, Swansea)

* 3 Irish provinces – Munster, Leinster and Ulster Ravens

* 3 Scottish teams – top 3 finishers in Premier 1 (Ayr, Currie and Melrose)

Pool Stages

* 6 pools of 4 playing cross pool (4 matches/rounds, 2 home, 2 away) – Pool 1 v Pool 2, Pool 3 v Pool 4, Pool 5 v Pool 6

* 4 points for a win, 2 for a draw, 1 bonus point for either a) scoring 4 or more tries or b) losing by 7 points or less

Quarter finals

*6 pool winners plus 2 best runners up progress to the quarter finals

* teams seeded based on pool performance with top four having home advantage

Semi finals and final

* four winning quarter finalists progress to semi final draw

* winning semi finalists progress to final