CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON LAUNCH

Blues skipper Lee Dickson was at Twickenham Stadium on Tuesday 21st August for the tenth Greene King IPA Championship launched ahead of the start of the 2018/19 season.

Speaking at the event, Dickson said: "The divide between the Championship and the Premiership is a lot closer than a lot of people think and every week is a tough game as shown last season. We finished third last year but one loss could have meant finishing fifth, sixth or seventh so we know how difficult the league is and we need to make sure that when we go out on the pitch we get everything spot on.

"There's a lot of excitement around Bedford ahead of the new campaign. It's a traditional club and the fans come out in their thousands whenever we play at home. We want to play a positive style of rugby and we are attacking minded, but we've also tightened up our defence. First and foremost we want to attack and play what you see. If it's on, as a coach, I'll back the players to go for it."

In their second season in English rugby’s second tier Hartpury RFC will host the opening fixture with Yorkshire Carnegie visiting College Stadium on Friday, 31 August.

Championship new boys Coventry host Jersey Reds on Saturday, while London Irish, who were relegated from the Premiership last season travel to Ealing Trailfinders, a match which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

“It’s been a very special 10 years for the Championship and going into the 10th season we have a very exciting season ahead of us,” said RFU director of professional rugby Nigel Melville.

Played over 22 rounds, Sky Sports will continue to broadcast the Championship this season, along with streamed games on England Rugby channels and chairman of the league Geoff Irvine said that support was vital, while also speaking of his excitement ahead of the new campaign.

He added: “I think the partnership we’ve managed to form with our sponsors has been very important as well as the coverage we receive from Sky Sports. I think innovations such as live streaming has been very successful and look forward to more of it this year.

“Another highlight from the past nine years has been watching the progress and development of the players who then go on to play in the Premiership or with England and the British & Irish Lions. 

"That speaks volumes of the worth of the Championship.”

In a repeat of last season’s format, the winner of the league will be promoted to the Premiership, with play-offs no longer applied at the end of the campaign.

The launch at Twickenham Stadium was attended by directors of rugby, as well as club captains and representatives from all 12 sides.

Coventry director of rugby Roland Winter says his club are relishing their return to the second tier of English rugby.

“The club are proud to be back in the Championship, the fans have been waiting a long time to be back at this level,” said Winter.  “We’ve had a good eight weeks of preparation; have added eight signings that were needed to add quality as well as experience to the squad. The fans can’t wait, we’ve sold more season tickets than ever before and the anticipation is building.”

London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney has challenged his side to bounce back at the first attempt as the Exiles look to return to the Premiership.

“The lads have worked really hard in pre-season, I have no complaints, we’ve just had to roll up our sleeves and get on with it,” he said. “From a club point of view, we’re like any other club, we just want to see how far we can get and finish top.”

Greene King IPA are the title partner of the Greene King IPA Championship, cementing its position as a key supporter of rugby at all levels of the game.