The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) have joined forces to create a new development competition – The Celtic Cup – for the emerging professional players from the four Irish provinces and four Welsh regions.
The competition which features development squads from Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Blues, Dragons, Scarlets and the Ospreys aims to provide a learning environment for players, coaches and referees by re-creating the week to week challenges presented by senior professional rugby.
The competition will run over seven consecutive weeks commencing on the weekend of September 7-8.
The eight teams will be divided into two conferences of four Welsh regions and four Irish provinces. Each Irish province will play each of the Welsh regions and will play against two Irish provinces. Similarly the Welsh regions will play each of the Irish provinces and will play two of their Welsh counterparts. The top ranked Province from the Irish conference will play the top ranked Region from the Welsh conference in the inaugural final. The venue will be confirmed at a later date.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented: "The Celtic Cup will bring significant value to the development of our emerging professional players, referees and coaches and support staff. 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 complimentary to the club game and create a supportive season structure into the future."
WRU Head of Rugby Performance Geraint John added: "We are excited about this new development for the performance pathway in Wales.
"The Celtic Cup will help develop players into senior professionals while also promoting and improving Welsh coaches and other performance staff such as strength and conditioning coaches, analysts and referees.
"The block programme of matches will greatly help all involved to build week to week in a professional environment and competition structure, helping to underpin the development of future regional and international players."
Weekend 1 – September 7
Munster v Connacht, Irish Independent Park KO 17.30
Ulster v Leinster, Malone RFC, KO 17.00
Ospreys v Scarlets, Brigend RFC, KO 19.00
Dragons v Cardiff Blues, Rodney Parade KO 19.15
Weekend 2 – September 14
Ulster v Scarlets, Instonians/Cooke RFC KO 19.00
Weekend 2 – September 15
Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Energia Park KO14.00
Ospreys v Munster, Swansea RFC KO 14.00
Dragons v Connacht, CCSE Ystrad Mynach KO 14.30
Weekend 3 – September 21
Munster v Dragons, Irish Independent Park KO 17.30
Connacht v Ospreys, Corinthian Park KO 15.00
Weekend 3 – September 2
Scarlets v Leinster, Parc Y Scarlets KO 14.30
Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Cardiff Arms Park KO 14.30
Weekend 4 – September 28
Leinster v Ospreys, Energia Park KO 19.30
Weekend 4 – September 29
Cardiff Blues v Munster, Cardiff Arms Park KO 14.00
Ulster v Dragons, Ballymena Park KO 14.30
Scarlets v Connacht, Carmarthen RFC KO 14.30
Weekend 5 – October 5
Munster v Scarlets, Irish Independent Park KO 19.30
Ospreys v Ulster, Swansea RFC KO 19.00
Weekend 5 – October 6
Dragons v Leinster, CCSE Ystrad Mynach KO 14.30
Connacht v Cardiff Blues, Galway Sportsground KO TBC
Weekend 6 – October 12,13,14
Leinster v Munster TBC
Connacht v Ulster TBC
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys TBC
Scarlets v Dragons TBC