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Combined Provinces XV to Compete in Women’s Celtic Challenge Tournament

Greg McWilliams 19/4/2022

Ireland Head coach Greg McWilliams and the national coaching team will take charge of the Combined Provinces squad

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.

IRFU Head of Women’s Performance Pathways, Gillian McDarby has worked with the WRU and SRU to deliver the Celtic Challenge tournament

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

WRU 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 WRU Development XV
Saturday 18th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

The Thistles v Combined Provinces XV
Sunday 25th February 2023 – TBC

The WRU will be represented by the Welsh Development XV led by Wales forwards coach Mike Hill and assisted by WRU Lead Female Pathway Coach Liza Burgess and Rhys Pritchard.

The squad will be made up of a mix of young, up and coming players and club players with eyes very much focussed on developing players for the 2025 Rugby World Cup and beyond.

WRU Performance Director Nigel Walker said, “We are very excited by this new opportunity to develop players on the female performance pathway. This is very much a starting point with one team per country in this pilot year but the training programme and matches will provide an invaluable experience for Welsh players with ambitions to play international rugby to improve and test themselves in a performance environment.”     

Scottish Rugby will be represented by The Thistles, with the coaching set-up to be confirmed in the new year. The squad will comprise of rising talent within the Scottish Futures programme and Tennent’s Premiership, alongside home-based contracted players.

Gemma Fay, Scottish Rugby’s Head of Women & Girls’ Strategy, said: “This announcement is another key part of our 2022-2026 Women & Girls’ Strategy, helping us provide an additional level of competition and creating better opportunities for our best players based in Scotland.

“I’m delighted we are working together with IRFU and WRU to progress the women’s game and we are excited to learn as much as we can from this pilot year which will allow us to develop the Celtic Challenge moving forward.”