The All Ireland League is set to change shape to bring its top end closer to the professional game. In changes scheduled to kick in for the 2019-20 season, the new format will see two divisions of eight at the top - Premiership 1 and Premiership 2 - followed by two Championship Divisions, each of eight clubs, and then two Conference Divisions, also of eight clubs each.
Details of the new format were sent to the clubs on Friday following ratification at a IRFU committee meeting on Thursday evening and a final consultation process will start next month.
At the same meeting, Pa Whelan was replaced as one of Ireland's three representatives on the World Rugby council.
Given that research and meetings with clubs on the league structure have gone on to some degree over the last two seasons it's expected that in the event of stalemate over agreement, the Union will issue invitations to clubs to take part.
At the top end, it's planned initially to ensure representation from the four provinces of at least two clubs across the two the Premiership Divisions, and that they would be ring-fenced for two seasons. Thereafter, their make-up would be determined solely via promotion and relegation. Having a provincial spread allows for the respective provinces' academy players to be involved, which is central to the plan to align the proposed 'Premiership' with the professional game.
In the absence of the now-discontinued B&I Cup, the schedule would see a new 'A team' competition between Irish provinces and Welsh regions played over September/October, followed by the AIL in which there would be no restriction on the number of contracted players involved. The IRFU will fund the new format in which the IRFU's regulation 6, regarding inducements to players, will be rewritten.
The Premiership and Championship Divisions will be played on a national basis, but the plan for Conference Divisions is to structure them fresh each season to avoid long-distance travel for clubs who can't afford it.
At the IRFU meeting it was also decided that outgoing Union president Phil Orr would replace Pa Whelan on the World Rugby council. He will be ratified, along with John O’Driscoll and women’s rep Sue Carty, at the IRFU AGM next month. This is the second time in recent years Orr has benefited from swift political change. In 2015 he was voted in from the floor of the AGM as junior vice-president when outgoing management committee chairman Finbarr Crowley had been recommended by the Union committee.
Whelan has had a lifetime's involvement in Irish rugby, much of it with the Ireland team as coach/selector/manager and with the IRFU committee. He cut short his managerial role of the Ireland side shortly before their tour of South Africa in 1998, having been named in an alleged assault.
It is understood his position may have come under scrutiny following the fallout from Ireland's failed bid to host the 2023 World Cup.
On the summer tour of US and Japan a year ago Andrew Conway did his share of the media duties, and left us in no doubt that the move to Munster was the best thing that ever happened to him. A schoolboy star in his own eyes as well as others, his Leinster career had not delivered the way anyone expected. So he bit the bullet and went south to Munster, whom he had always admired from the days they were ripping it up, when Leinster couldn't tear open a wet paper bag.