The Women’s All-Ireland Cup gets underway this weekend with a new-look Round Robin format introduced which will see 26 teams compete across six pools.
Defending champions Highfield begin their Women’s All-Ireland Cup defence at home to Ballincollig this Sunday, while last year’s beaten finalists UL Bohemians are at home to local rivals Shannon.
Old Belvedere, who sit atop of the Women’s All-Ireland League Division 1, begin their cup campaign by hosting Navan at Anglesea Road.
Pool A features Blackrock RFC, St. Mary’s College RFC, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast Harlequins RFC and Enniskillen RFC.
Pool B consists of Old Belvedere RFC, Cooke RFC, Railway Union and Navan RFC.
Pool C is made up of Portlaoise RFC, Cill Dara RFC, Carlow RFC, Rathdrum RFC and New Ross RFC.
Pool D contains Galwegians RFC, Sligo RFC, Edenderry RFC and Buccaneers RFC.
Pool E features UL Bohemians RFC, Young Munster RFC, Nenagh Ormond RFC and Shannon RFC.
Pool F contains Highfield RFC, Tralee RFC, Ballincollig RFC and Fermoy RFC.
Nora Stapleton, Women’s and Girls’ Rugby Development Executive at the IRFU, commented: “The All-Ireland Cup competition runs over the course of the Six Nations and so many of these teams will lose some of their best players to international duty.
“The new format increases the number of competitive games played which will aid in player development.
“The multi-level structure also enables teams to compete for silverware against sides of a similar standard after the initial round robin phase.
“The cup competition is always exciting as more often than not, teams can cause an upset by beating the leaders in AIL Division 1.”
The winners and runners-up from Pools A and C will advance to the quarter-finals of the Cup as both pools contain five teams.
The winners of Pools B, D, E and F will also advance to the Cup quarter-finals with lesser ranked teams then qualifying for Plate, Shield and Bowl competition quarter-finals.
The final fixtures of the Round Robin phase are scheduled to be completed by Sunday, February 16.
The Cup quarter-finals will take place on Sunday, February 23, semi-finals on Sunday, March 2 and the finals will take place on Sunday, March 16.