The IRFU are planning to announce a season plan for the 2023/24 Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division by the end of April.
It is expected that the season plan will be finalised and confirmed at the next scheduled AIL Forum on Saturday, April 22.
A draft proposal is currently with club stakeholders for consideration and review, which reflects the new annual global Women’s 15s competition model and international playing windows coming on stream later in 2023.
It also allows for potential expansion to Irish Rugby’s participation in the Celtic Challenge Series.
The proposal shared with clubs is based on the current nine participating teams being retained and playing on a home-and-away basis in the 2023/24 Women’s Division. It also provides for a promotion play-off to the division with a round-robin format for teams currently in provincial Qualifying Leagues.
While changes to competition structures for 2024/25 would remain subject to review, there would be provisions in place for an expansion to a 10-team division in 2024/25, subject to all participants meeting the minimum operating standards for an All-Ireland League team.
Expressions of interest for teams interested in entering the Women’s Division of the Energia All-Ireland League will be invited in May.
The Women In Rugby Action Plan Review, published in December 2022, included a recommendation for a 12-team, two division league under the theme ‘creating optimum competition’ after consultations involving a discussion group with AIL clubs.
IRFU Women’s Rugby Development Manager Amanda Greensmith said:
The initial reaction from club and player representatives on the proposed season plan was constructive. We’ve now encouraged club representatives to reach out to their own stakeholders and really consider the proposal.
“Timelines in the Women In Rugby Action Plan Review were indicative and while the feedback from clubs at the time on a two-division structure was mixed, it was clear that the majority of our stakeholders felt change was needed.
“We’ve since held our own one-to-one engagements with clubs and it was agreed that a more phased approach to expansion would suit all stakeholders over the coming seasons.
“The rate of change we’re seeing at the moment across the game is incredible and we’re trying to evolve and bed in new structures amid unprecedented scrutiny.
“We’re entering into a professional era for women in rugby as the global calendar evolves and participation levels in domestic rugby continue to rise.
“The challenge is in how we align our All-Ireland League and Cup competitions and our Interprovincial programmes to meet the needs of their participants while serving the changing needs of Irish Rugby.
“It was great to have such a positive first reaction to the proposed season plan and we’ll look forward to working with clubs and stakeholders to finalise it over the coming weeks.”
Other areas for consideration with clubs at present include:
- Reverting Interprovincial competitions to earlier in the season for development of high performance rugby within global calendar
- Inclusion of ‘no rugby’ weekends to help players manage their time away from the pitch
- Impact of Celtic Challenge Series on player availability at club level, including potential expansion of number of Irish Rugby’s involvement to two teams
- Reformatting of the Energia All-Ireland Women’s Cup to require less games
- Reintroduction of a Sevens competition for club rugby
Rugby Development Departments at provincial level have also been engaged for feedback.
The next AIL Forum for the Women’s Division will take place in Cork on Saturday, April 22, prior to Ireland’s game at home to England in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations.