10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
After two season's which ended with finals in which Leinster Lions defeated Munster in 2002 and Munster beat Neath in 2003, the 12 team tournament will for the first time be played on a 22 game home and away basis with all participating teams appearing in one league.
A new initiative will be the launch of a knock-out cup competition played over four independent weekends.
The teams that will compete in the 2003/2004 Celtic League and Celtic Cup will be: Ireland: Munster (champions), Connacht, Leinster Lions and Ulster. Scotland: Borders, Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Rugby. Wales: Bridgend/Pontypridd Region, Cardiff Region, Ebbw Vale/Newport Region, Llanelli Region and Neath/Swansea region.
League matches will begin early next season, with the final round taking place in May.
Philip Browne, Chief Executive, Irish Rugby Football Union expressed his pleasure that the new structure had been agreed saying, "We are very pleased that the new structure of a home and away Celtic League has been agreed, which allows us to develop the competition to its full potential. The introduction of a knock out Celtic Cup competition is a further fillip which I hope will prove to be attractive to broadcasters, sponsors and the rugby public."
Meanwhile,Welsh Rugby Union Chief Executive David Moffett believes that, "The accord we have agreed for the Celtic League to be played on a proper home and away basis from next season is a huge step forward for the tournament. From a Welsh perspective, the announcement that our five new regional teams will be competing in a full and proper fixture list next season is great news. It means there will be enough quality rugby throughout the season to hone the senior players, develop the younger talent and give the fans plenty of meaningful action.
"It means there will be top-class, professional club rugby being played throughout the Rugby World Cup, giving the teams greater continuity than in the past. It also means that the international coaches will be able to see their players all the way up to a few weeks before they traditionally leave on summer tours.
"As a group, the Celtic League Association has taken a huge step forward with this agreement. We have also ironed out all issues regarding finance for next season."