An expanded Australian Rugby Shield tournament kicks off around the country this Saturday, with all eight Australian states and territories represented in the competition for the first time.
Currently in its seventh year, the 2006 Australian Rugby Shield will see tournament debutants the ACT & Southern NSW Vikings and the Tassie Jack Jumpers compete alongside NSW Country, Queensland Country, Adelaide, Darwin, Melbourne and Perth.
The increased number of teams means the tournament will now be contested by two pools of four, with Semi Finals spots being decided after a three match round-robin competition within each pool. The winners of each Semi Final will proceed to the Final, to be played on Saturday 3 June.
The Australian Rugby Shield is funded solely by the Australian Rugby Union and provides an important opportunity for the ARU to identify and unearth talented players nationally and for regional teams and developing unions to compete in a structured competition against sides of a similar standard.
The competition also ensures Rugby fans across the country and in regional Australia have the opportunity to get a taste of the game, with supporters being able to see high quality and exciting Rugby from some of the country's developing young players.
Round One of the 2006 Australian Rugby Shield kicks off this Saturday with the Darwin Mosquitoes playing host to the NSW Country Cockatoos; 2005 finalists the Queensland Country Heelers line up against newcomers the ACT & Southern NSW Vikings; the Tassie Jack Jumpers travel across Bass Strait to take on the Melbourne Axemen; and the Adelaide Black Falcons go head-to-head with 2005 champions, Perth Gold.
2006 Australian Rugby Shield Pools
Pool 1: Darwin Mosquitoes, Queensland Country Heelers, NSW Country Cockatoos, ACT & Southern NSW Vikings
Pool 2: Melbourne Axemen, Adelaide Black Falcons, Perth Gold, Tassie Jack Jumpers