Japan's top-flight and second-tier rugby teams will compete for the Top League Cup ahead of this year's World Cup, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced Thursday.
The Top League Cup, a competition introduced last season, will see 24 teams split into four pools of six. Each team will play five round-robin matches and a team from each group will advance to the knockout stage.
Top League and second-division Top Challenge League teams will compete in the same tournament for the first time, according to the JRFU.
The tournament, from June 22 to Aug. 10, will conclude more than a month ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which will see 20 national teams at games in 12 cities stretching from Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido to Kyushu in the southwest.
The Top League Cup's 60 pool matches and three knockout-round games will whet appetites in the buildup to the showpiece event.
Last season's league champions Kobe Kobelco Steelers have been drawn against fellow Top League sides Ricoh Black Rams, NEC Green Rockets and Toyota Industries Shuttles as well as former Top League side Kintetsu Liners in pool D.
The Top League will not kick off until January 2020 following a break after the World Cup closes in November.