Rugby's Celtic Challenge debuted last season, with the aim of providing a platform for players to develop in a high performance environment, but what’s changed about it this year, and what does that mean for the competition and its players?
What’s the new format of the Celtic Challenge?
The competition retains its core format of a cross border face off between the IRFU (Ireland), Scottish Rugby and the WRU (Wales), although this time it will take palace over an 11 week period.
There’s also a new look in terms of the amount of teams and the structure of the tournament.
This time, six teams, two from each nation, will battle it out across five rounds.
Subsequently, and as a result of the standings, the playoffs will consist of three rounds, and will ultimately see one team crowned the overall winner.
I can foresee so many challenges to this, but I can see it as a stepping stone to bette. How they build and market this is crucial. Fail to invest and you fail to reap the rewards.
I really hope the players have assurances financially for this. It's costly to train and play. https://t.co/b2A12MsdOP
— IrishWomensRugbySupportersClub (@IrishWomens) December 5, 2023
Who’s participating in the Celtic Challenge?
We're loving the new Combined Provinces XV jersey for the inaugural Celtic Challenge! 🙌
Greg McWilliams' side get their campaign underway against WRU Development XV this Sunday.#NothingLikeIt | @VodafoneIreland pic.twitter.com/l6GbvJLVJO
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 25, 2023
Last time out the Irish players competed on behalf of the Combined Provinces XV, but this time around there’s been a slight shake up, given the addition of more team slots.
Irish players will play under two banners, Connacht and Munster as the Clovers, and Leinster and Ulster as the Wolfhounds.
Scotland’s teams are listed as Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors, while Wales opted for Brython Thunder and Gwalia Lightning.
Interestingly, it has been stated by the IRFU that “in order to provide quality game time and positional cover, there will also be some crossover with the provincial players.”
Show a real lack of planning, communication, & consideration to the many many volunteers that put time & effort into their teams
It feels like the IRFU are stumbling their way to professional provinces and a league for them to play in but not thinking about what it's built on
— The 2nd Row (@the2ndRow) December 5, 2023
When and when are the games?
The IRFU have announced that the two teams that will compete in the Celtic Challenge are the Clovers (Connacht/Munster) and the Wolfhounds (Ulster/Leinster) https://t.co/CgclOIPJdb pic.twitter.com/Y8zTtCCNim
— Rúaidhrí O'Connor (@RuaidhriOC) December 5, 2023
The competition spans from December 29th 2023 to March 3rd 2024, with the first game teeing up a derby day clash for the home Unions.
In the Irish case that sees the Wolfhounds and the Clovers come to blows at Musgrave Park, with Energia Park and Kingspan Stadium the other home venues.
The full fixture outline is listed as follows:
What have the IRFU said about the Celtic Challenge?
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Gillian McDarby, IRFU Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, commented on the fresh format for the competition, mentioning that its “an integral tournament for the development of women’s rugby players in Ireland.”
“It will play a significant role in the player pathway moving forward,” she says.
On the decision to move beyond one team per organisation was due to a “collective goal of the three unions to elevate the Celtic Challenge to the highest level of competition possible, ensuring that players are in the best position to compete in the Women’s 6N.”
📢The fixtures and team names for the Celtic Challenge tournament announced.
The two Irish teams competing; Clovers and Wolfhounds, will see two provinces combining, @connachtrugby and @Munsterrugby (Clovers), and @leinsterrugby and @UlsterRugby (Wolfhounds)
Read more 👇
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) December 5, 2023