Published: 05:00, 28 May 2022
A league restructure will bring more rugby derby matches to Kent next season.
The RFU's major restructure of the adult men's game is complete with an emphasis on creating more local games in a bid to save money and create more interest.
A shortened league season has also been introduced, lessening the intensity of the previous structure. Teams from Regional 1 and below will compete in a new national cup competition at the end of the league season, which adds variety to the season fixtures and takes out the conflict between league and cup commitments.
As part of the set-up, one of Kent's leading sides Canterbury will be in National 2 East (one of three National 2 divisions) for the 2022/23 season along with Sevenoaks- newcomers to the level after topping London & South East Premier in 2021/22 - and Tonbridge Juddians.
Juddians finished bottom of National 1 last season while Canterbury were 12th placed out of 16 in National 2 South. The new National 2 East is one step below National 1.
Canterbury head coach Matt Corker was one of those who welcomed the changes.
He said: "I am excited and feel that it is an extremely positive move for our players. The Pilgrims entry into Counties 2 Kent is a big step forward in our ability as a club to help our players develop and prepare them for national league rugby.
"The new National 2 East is full of great teams and offers us reduced travel times and more rest weekends which is a great help to players rugby and life balance."
Medway will be playing national level rugby for the first time after their promotion from London Division 1 South, with third place enough to clinch a place at the higher level of the new pyramid. They will be in the same division as Tunbridge Wells - who finished second bottom in London & SE Premier - competing in Regional 1 South East (one of six Regional 1 divisions).
There are 12 Regional 2 divisions, with South East containing Dartfordians and Gravesend. They finished fourth and third respectively in London 2 South East last season.
The pyramid, which has been "flattened" with the new structure, includes four 'Kent counties' divisions which include teams from the South London area. These go from one down to four.
Aylesford Bulls are among the teams in Counties 1 Kent.
They finished second in London 3 South East behind Bromley last season and faced a patient wait before their promotion to the next level was confirmed after the reshuffle.
Bulls will face old rivals like Deal & Betteshanger, Thanet Wanderers, Ashford and Folkestone. It's the seventh tier of English rugby.
Meanwhile Maidstone, who finished second from bottom in London 3, have avoided the drop due to the restructure and will play in Counties 2 next season. They will face Medway sides Gillingham Anchorians and Old Williamsonians along with 2nd XV teams from Canterbury (the Pilgrims) and Sevenoaks.
Dartford Valley and New Ash Green will face Gravesend's 2nd XV in Counties 3 Kent.
Swale rivals Sittingbourne and Sheppey will lock horns again next season, competing in Counties 4 Kent.
Here's how the 2022/23 leagues will look;
National 2 East: Barnes, Blackheath, Bury St Edmunds, Canterbury, Dorking, Guernsey, Henley, North Walsham, Old Albanians, Rochford Hundred, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge Juddians, Westcliff, Worthing.
Regional 1 South East: Bedford Athletic, Colchester, CS Stags 1863, Harpenden, Hertford, Medway, Shelford, Sidcup, Sudbury, Tring, Tunbridge Wells, Westcombe Park.
Regional 2 South East: Battersea Ironsides, Beckenham, Chichester, Cobham, Dartfordians, Farnham, Gravesend, Guildford, Horsham, KCS Old Boys, Old Colfeians, Old Reigatians.
Counties 1 Kent: Ashford, Aylesford Bulls, Beccehamian, Bromley, Charlton Park, Cranbrook, Crowborough, Deal & Betteshanger, Folkestone, Heathfield & Waldron, Old Alleynians, Thanet Wanderers.
Counties 2 Kent: Canterbury 2nds, Dover, Gillingham Anchorians, Hastings & Bexhill, Maidstone, Old Dunstonians, Old Williamsonians, Park House, Sevenoaks 2nds, Southwark Lancers, Vigo, Westcombe Park 2nds.
Counties 3 Kent: Blackheath 3rds, Cliffe Crusaders, Dartford Valley, Faversham, Gravesend 2nds, Kings College Hospital, Medway 2nds, New Ash Green, Old Alleynians 2nds, Old Elthamians, Sidcup 2nds, Whitstable.
Counties 4 Kent: Askean, Beccehamians 2nds, Brockleians, Dartfordians 2nds, Foots Cray, Greenwich, Lordswood, Old Gravesendians, Sheppey, Sidcup 3rds, Sittingbourne, Weavering Warriors, Tonbridge Juddians 3rds