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All Ireland League structure announced as shortened campaign sees promotion and relegation scrapped

 

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New format: Shea O’Brien and Armagh will face derby duels

New format: Shea O’Brien and Armagh will face derby duels

Photo by John Dickson / DICKSOND

New format: Shea O’Brien and Armagh will face derby duels

A reshaped structure for the forthcoming club season has been outlined by the IRFU which will see the campaign being split into two distinct stages.

With the focus being very much on mitigating risk from coronavirus and maintaining player welfare, the plan will see clubs playing regional leagues this side of Christmas with derbies the order of the day. 

Should all be well come January, then the Energia All-Ireland League, in its more familiar guise, will then kick-off in but will consist of nine games with semi-finals and finals.

There will also be no promotion or relegation from the five AIL divisions due to the truncated format, as was the case last season when the leagues could not be concluded due to Covid-19.

Stage One of the campaign will run between September to December with each province's clubs playing each other in local conferences.

Silverware will be available for those sides topping their conferences - in what will be known as the Energia Community Series - as well as the chance to taste knockout rugby in the All-Ireland Bateman Cup as well as a Plate and Shield when the clubs move to a cross-border format after Christmas.

The Bateman Plate and Shield are new competitions, and the plan, along with the overall alterations to the season, is for them to run for one campaign only.

Each conference will begin on September 26, while the AIL phase of games are due to kick-off on January 9.

Twelve Ulster clubs will embark on their regional derbies in two conferences of six which have yet to be determined.

Both Stage One and Two will only proceed if there is no further surge in Covid-19 cases and if governmental guidance permits the playing of games, while player willingness is also a key factor. 

Contact in training is expected to be introduced early next month, with friendlies being played by the end of August, and then other inter-club provincial games, prior to the Energia Community Series starting, coming at the beginning of September.

All clubs throughout the provinces are expected to have implemented their health and safety plans regarding the pandemic before the end of July.

In the women's game, 10 teams will be taking part in the AIL following their own local conferences.   

Meanwhile, all four provinces' academy squads will be back in their respective training centres on July 20.

After an eight-week pre-season, the academy squads will then hook up with the provinces' senior players ahead of taking part in a series of A games which will be played in September and October.

As such, there will be no Celtic Cup played in the forthcoming season due to the pandemic.

Belfast Telegraph