THERE was welcome news for the domestic game yesterday with the confirmation that Ulster Bank will sponsor the All-Ireland League and Irish club international side for the next three years.
The partnership with the IRFU sees Ulster Bank become the 'Official Community Rugby Partner'. Allied Irish Bank sponsored the league from 1998 until pulling out last year and while no details on the new financial arrangement were revealed at yesterday's announcement, it is understood to be a six-figure annual sum. The sponsorship is believed to be worth less than that offered by AIB, mainly in terms of ancillary promotion, but prevailing economic circumstances always made this likely and Ulster Bank's commitment to the game was warmly welcomed yesterday.
"This is an exciting partnership for Irish rugby which will provide much-needed support to all clubs," said IRFU president Caleb Powell.
"I would like to thank Ulster Bank for their decision to pledge their support to Irish rugby."
An interesting aspect to the sponsorship is the establishment of the RugbyForce initiative, which sees selected clubs receive support to help develop their facilities.
Clubs looking to avail of the initiative need to register online at www.ulsterbank.com/rugby before March 25 and an independent adjudication committee will select four clubs to receive €5,000 worth of goods and resources to be used towards developing facilities over a special RugbyForce weekend.
The initiative is designed to encourage rugby supporters to give something back to their local club by volunteering to help with renovations to clubhouses and grounds.
As well as the €5,000 worth of goods and resources, winning clubs will receive €500 worth of food and beverages for the volunteer force over the designated weekend, marketing aids such as posters, T-shirts and online tools and a visit from an international player to the weekend event.
"The RugbyForce programme is further development of this effort and a superb way to help further incentivise the passionate work that these rugby people around Ireland already give to their clubs," said Powell.
Ulster Bank, whose parent company Royal Bank of Scotland sponsors the Six Nations, will also sponsor the club international team, which sees non-professional AIL players go up against similar amateur selections from other countries.
The Ireland club side plays two matches this season, against a Scotland clubs team and England counties XV.