The IRFU in partnership with the WRU and the SRU have created a pilot Celtic Challenge competition, supported by World Rugby, to provide a high-performance tournament window ahead of the 2023 TikTok Six Nations Championships.
In year one the tournament will see one team from each Union compete in a series of home and away fixtures over a six-week period commencing at the end of January 2023. Each team will play two games at home and two games away with the competition concluding four weeks prior to the start of the 2023 TikTok Six Nations Championship.
The ambition is to launch a full, six team tournament in 2024 featuring two sides from each Union.
The IRFU will be represented in the 2023 edition by a Combined Provinces XV, sponsored by Vodafone, under the guidance of the national team coaching group led by Greg McWilliams and John McKee.
The squad will be based at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin with the side’s two home fixtures played at the home of Ulster Rugby, the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast on the 4th and 18th February.
The Combined Provinces playing squad will comprise of contracted XVs players and Club players under consideration for the 2023 TikTok Six Nations Championships which commences at the end of March.
Gillian McDarby, IRFU Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, commented, "The three partner Unions have worked closely together to put the necessary supports in place to help establish this competition. It is vital at this stage of the sport’s development that we establish sustainable competition models that bridge the gap between the player pathway and the international game."
The ambition across the three Unions is to increase the number of competing teams in 2024 to six and over the course of the next 3-5 years it is the IRFU’s ambition to have four Irish teams competing in this tournament."
Greg McWilliams, Ireland head coach, commented, "The Celtic Challenge comes directly after the interprovincial series which will give players the opportunity to build form and match sharpness coming into this new competition. As a coaching group it gives us the chance to spend six weeks working with a group of established and emerging players ahead of the Six Nations."
Kick-off times will be confirmed by the respective Home Unions when they are finalised.
2023 Celtic Challenge – Combined Provinces XV Fixtures
Welsh Development XV v Combined Provinces XV
Sunday 29th January 2023 – Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Combined Provinces XV v The Thistles
Saturday 4th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Combined Provinces XV v Welsh Development XV
Saturday 18th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
The Thistles v Combined Provinces XV
Sunday 25th February 2023 – TBC