THE IRFU AND WRU have confirmed that the Celtic Cup will take place over seven consecutive weeks in September and October, with the new competition aiming to expose emerging players to the demands of professional rugby.
The Celtic Cup essentially replaces the disbanded British & Irish Cup, providing competitive rugby for the Irish province’s ‘A’ teams.
Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster make up the Irish pool of the Celtic Cup, while Cardiff Blues, the Dragons, the Ospreys and the Scarlets form the Welsh pool.
In a format similar to that of the Pro14, each of the Irish provinces will play against the four Welsh teams and two of the other Irish provinces in their six pool games.
The Welsh teams will each face the four Irish provinces and two of their fellow Welsh sides.
After six rounds, the top team from the Irish pool will take on the top team from the Welsh pool in the final.
The inaugural Celtic Cup gets underway on Friday 7 September, when Munster host Connacht in Cork and Ulster welcome Leinster to Malone.
With the Celtic Cup condensed into the first two months of the season, the IRFU is hopeful of seeing more academy and professionally contracted players being involved in the All-Ireland League later in the campaign.
“The Celtic Cup will bring significant value to the development of our emerging professional players, referees and coaches and support staff,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
“It will challenge them to perform and manage themselves within a professional competition structure throughout a week-to-week campaign similar to the Guinness Pro14.
“The Celtic Cup is also a fantastic vehicle for the development of our next tier of coaches who will have to take the learnings from games each week to drive performance across the competition.
“The IRFU are cognisant of the important role that our domestic club competitions play in the development of young players. The scheduling of the Celtic Cup is intended to be complementary to the club game and create a supportive season structure into the future.”
Celtic Cup fixtures:
Weekend 1 – September 7
Munster v Connacht, Irish Independent Park, 5.30pm
Ulster v Leinster, Malone RFC, 5pm
Ospreys v Scarlets, Bridgend RFC, 7pm
Dragons v Cardiff Blues, Rodney Parade, 7.15pm
Weekend 2 – Friday, September 14
Ulster v Scarlets, Instonians/Cooke RFC, 7pm
Saturday, September 15
Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Energia Park, 2pm
Ospreys v Munster, Swansea RFC, 2pm
Dragons v Connacht, CCSE Ystrad Mynach, 2.30pm
Weekend 3 – Friday, September 21
Munster v Dragons, Irish Independent Park, 5.30pm
Connacht v Ospreys, Corinthian Park, 3pm
Saturday, September 22
Scarlets v Leinster, Parc y Scarlets, 2.30pm
Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Cardiff Arms Park, 2.30pm
Weekend 4 – Friday, September 28
Leinster v Ospreys, Energia Park, 7.30pm
Saturday, September 29
Cardiff Blues v Munster, Cardiff Arms Park, 2pm
Ulster v Dragons, Ballymena RFC, 2.30pm
Scarlets v Connacht, Carmarthen RFC, 2.30pm
Weekend 5 – Friday, October 5
Munster v Scarlets, Irish Independent Park, 7.30pm
Ospreys v Ulster, Swansea RFC, 7pm
Saturday, October 6
Dragons v Leinster, CCSE Ystrad Mynach, 2.30pm
Connacht v Cardiff Blues, the Sportsground, kick-off tbc
Weekend 6 – October 12-14
Leinster v Munster, details tbc
Connacht v Ulster, details tbc
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, details tbc
Scarlets v Dragons, details tbc
Weekend 7 – Final tbc
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