By Richard Grainger

THE BRITISH & Irish Cup kicked-off this weekend after a major makeover due to last season’s antics, which saw some clubs using it as an opportunity to rest key players and to rotate their squad.

The competition, now in its fourth year, includes 32 teams split into eight pools, with only the winner of each pool progressing to the knock-out stage.  The nine rounds align with the ERC weekends, with the final scheduled for Friday 17th May 2013.

Joining RFU Championship clubs are twelve teams from Wales’ Principality Premiership, Scotland’s top four RBS Division 1 clubs from last season, and the Development teams from each of the four Irish Provinces.

Certainly, if the first week is anything to go by, there will be a feast of entertaining rugby, as well players displaying full levels of commitment, if both the try and card counts are anything to go by.

Bristol returned to winning ways in Pool 1, with a 14-23 win over Cardiff. Referee Mr Cammy Rudkin had his hand in his pocket on several occasions in a bad-tempered affair that resulted in him producing three yellows and a red card. Despite Cardiff holding a 9-6 lead at the break, Liam Middleton’s men finished the stronger with tries from Ryan Edwards and Mitch Eadie.

In Pool 2 Bedford travelled to the heart of the valleys and ran in eight tries to beat newcomers Bedwas 23-48.

The Cornish Pirates defeated Carmarthen Quins 44-32 in Pool 3 at the Mennaye Field, outscoring them by five tries to four. However, it will annoy Head Coach, Welshman Ian Davies, that his side allowed the visitors to finish on top with a bonus point after two late scores.

In Pool 4 Newcastle Falcons recorded a hat-trick of fifty-point performances with a comprehensive 52-5 win over last year’s beaten finalists, Cross Keys, at Kingston Park.

The Falcons had secured the bonus point, scoring their fourth try just before the interval, to take a 24-0 lead into the changing rooms. By the time Dorian Jones had finished off a three-man overlap for the visitors but missed with the conversion attempt, the hosts had scored four more and had passed the 50 mark. This brings up Head Coach Dean Richards men’s seventh consecutive win in all forms of competition this season.

Leeds Carnegie Head Coach Diccon Edwards had made nine changes to his side for the trip to Dublin from the team that won at home against Doncaster last weekend; this included Stevie McColl taking over as captain from Jacob Rowan.

However, while Leinster’s senior side struggled to secure a home win in the Heineken Cup, down the road in Donnybrook the ‘A’ side showed their guests little hospitality, defeating them 47-18. Leinster, who gave the Yorkshiremen a masterclass in finishing, were 23-6 ahead at the break. Also in Pool 5 Jersey considered themselves unlucky not to pick up their first win of the season, and had to settle for a 20-20 draw against Pontypridd at St. Peter’s.

“It’s a flat result for us – I thought Ponty were there for the taking and we should have won,” Jersey Director of Rugby Ben Harvey, told their website. “We are still making mistakes, and I also felt we didn’t get much reward for our efforts in the scrum during the first half.”

Moseley defeated Llanelli 36-26 at Billesley Common and London Scottish’s second consecutive late comeback was insufficient to prevent hosts Gala holding out to win 27-23, in Pool 6.

Plymouth put up a spirited performance in Pool 7, against last year’s winners, Munster ‘A’, but went down 22-26 at Brickfields. Also in this group, Rotherham travelled to Aberavon where they defeated the hosts 21-25. Titans Head Coach Andre Bester told the Rotherham website, “It was a good performance all round from the boys as it is never easy getting a result in Wales.”

Finally, in Pool 8, Nottingham lost to LLandovery 28-21 and Doncaster managed to record two bonus points despite going down 29-30 to Melrose at home.

The B&I Cup continues next weekend, and this week’s action leaves things looking like this…

Follow Richard Grainger on Twitter @maverickwriter