All you need to know about the Celtic Cup as Ulster set to play in new rugby competition
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.
Here's a whistle-stop guide to the new tournament.
Which teams will feature?
The competition will feature development squads from Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Blues, Dragons, Scarlets and the Ospreys. The aim is to help those players by providing a learning environment for players, coaches and referees by re-creating the week to week challenges presented by senior professional rugby.
So how exactly is it going to work?
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 (venue tbc).
What's it all about?
Well you may remember the British and Irish Cup, which is now defunct. After running for nine seasons, the competition was scrapped this season when the English sides decided to withdraw. The Celtic Cup falls neatly in its place.
The aim is to provide a learning environment for players, coaches and referees by re-creating the week to week challenges presented by senior professional rugby. Teams will have to prepare for a different opposition each week, manage their physical preparation and recovery and analyse their performances as they grow as individuals and collectively.
What's been said about it?
"The Celtic Cup will bring significant value to the development of our emerging professional players, referees and coaches and support staff," said David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director. "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."
When will it be played?
The Celtic Cup will run over seven consecutive weeks commencing on the weekend of the 7-8th September.
What are the full fixtures then?
Weekend 1 – September 7th
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 14th
Ulster v Scarlets, Instonians/Cooke RFC KO 19.00
Weekend 2 – September 15th
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 21st
Munster v Dragons, Irish Independent Park KO 17.30
Connacht v Ospreys, Corinthian Park KO 15.00
Weekend 3 – September 2nd
Scarlets v Leinster, Parc Y Scarlets KO 14.30
Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Cardiff Arms Park KO 14.30
Weekend 4 – September 28th
Leinster v Ospreys, Energia Park KO 19.30
Weekend 4 – September 29th
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 5th
Munster v Scarlets, Irish Independent Park KO 19.30
Ospreys v Ulster, Swansea RFC KO 19.00
Weekend 5 – October 6th
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
Belfast Telegraph Digital