The Celtic Cup returns in August as the joint IRFU/WRU development competition looks to build on the value it delivered to young players in the performance pathway last season.
A host of players across all four provinces used the competition as a springboard to advance their claims for exposure at provincial senior level, while others would go on to play a central role in Ireland’s Under-20 Six Nations Grand Slam success.
The following players who featured in the Celtic Cup last season went on to represent their province in the GUINNESS PRO14 – Jack Dunne, Scott Penny and Ryan Baird (all Leinster), Alex McHenry and Liam Coombes (both Munster), Connacht’s Colm de Buitlear, and Ulster duo Robert Baloucoune and Bruce Houston.
Baloucoune, who is also an Ireland Sevens international, scored two tries for Ulster in the Heineken Champions Cup, while Connacht’s Kieran Joyce started twice against Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup.
Members of the Ireland Under-20 squad that achieved a Six Nations Grand Slam and delivered strong performances at the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Argentina featured prominently in the Celtic Cup at the start of last season – Sean French, Ben Healy, John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley (all Munster), Connacht pair Niall Murray and Dylan Tierney-Martin, the Leinster trio of David Hawkshaw, Liam Turner, Tom Clarkson, and Ulster’s Stewart Moore.
Teenage winger Aaron Sexton was Ulster’s top try scorer in last year’s Celtic Cup and has since been rewarded with an Academy contract with the northern province.
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora commented:
The Celtic Cup delivered a lot of what we had hoped it would. The players got exposed to the week-to-week preparation and recovery that senior professional players must manage and took a huge amount of learnings from those experiences.
“From a coaching perspective the competition simulated the challenges and pressures of preparing and developing a group of players while seeking improvement in performance each week.
“The Celtic Cup also plays an important role in the development of our support staff and that of our referees.”
Peter Smyth, the IRFU’s Head of Elite Player Development, added:
I had first-hand experience of the competition last season in my former role as Leinster Academy Manager and you could see the growth of the group across the seven weeks of the competition.
“It provided a platform for individuals to build confidence but it also forced them to back up performances and seek improvement the following week.
“The week-to-week nature of the competition provided the coaches with the challenge of embedding a game-plan, tweaking it week to week and problem solving over the course of the tournament. These experiences are invaluable in the development of our coaches at this level.”
The Celtic Cup is a week-to-week competition for emerging professional players from the four Irish provinces and four Welsh regions which is run over eight consecutive weeks. In a change to last year’s format, the 2019/20 Celtic Cup is a straight league format with each team playing seven games and the top two ranked sides advancing to the final on Saturday, October 12.
The competition features development squads from Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Cardiff Blues, the Dragons, the Scarlets and the Ospreys.
Weekend 1 – August 23-25
Cardiff Blues ‘A’ v Leinster ‘A’
Munster ‘A’ v Ospreys Development
Scarlets ‘A’ v Ulster ‘A’
Connacht Eagles v Dragons ‘A’
Weekend 2 – August 30-September 1
Leinster ‘A’ v Scarlets ‘A’
Dragons ‘A’ v Munster ‘A’
Ulster ‘A’ v Cardiff Blues ‘A’
Ospreys Development v Connacht Eagles
Weekend 3 – September 6-8
Munster ‘A’ v Leinster ‘A’
Ulster ‘A’ v Connacht Eagles
Scarlets ‘A’ v Ospreys Development
Cardiff Blues ‘A’ v Dragons ‘A’
Weekend 4 – September 13-15
Connacht Eagles v Munster ‘A’
Leinster ‘A’ v Ulster ‘A’
Ospreys Development v Cardiff Blues ‘A’
Dragons ‘A’ v Scarlets ‘A’
Weekend 5 – September 20-22
Ospreys Development v Leinster ‘A’
Munster ‘A’ v Cardiff Blues ‘A’
Dragons ‘A’ v Ulster ‘A’
Connacht Eagles v Scarlets ‘A’
Weekend 6 – September 27-29
Leinster ‘A’ v Dragons ‘A’
Scarlets ‘A’ v Munster ‘A’
Ulster ‘A’ v Ospreys Development
Cardiff Blues v Connacht Eagles
Weekend 7 – October 4-6
Connacht Eagles v Leinster ‘A’
Ulster ‘A’ v Munster ‘A’
Cardiff Blues ‘A’ v Scarlets ‘A’
Dragons ‘A’ v Ospreys Development
Final – October 12