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January kick-off for Celtic Challenge pilot

Wales forwards coach Mike Hill will lead the WRU Development XV in the Celtic Challenge pilot

THE IRFU, WRU and Scottish Rugby 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.

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.

Wales will be represented by a WRU 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.”

The IRFU will be represented in the 2023 edition by a Combined Provinces XV under the
guidance of the national team coaching group led by Greg McWilliams and John McKee and they will play their home fixtures at the home of Ulster Rugby, the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

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 sports’ development that we establish sustainable competition models that bridge the gap between the player pathway and the international game.”

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.”

Fixture details with locations and kick-off times will be fully confirmed by the respective Home Unions when these are finalised.

Celtic Challenge fixtures

The Thistles v WRU Developmment XV
Saturday 21st / Sunday 22 January 2023 – location TBC

WRU Development XV v Combined Provinces XV
Sunday 29th January 2023 – Cardiff Arms Park

Combined Provinces XV v The Thistles
Saturday 4th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

WRU Development XV v The Thistles
Saturday 11th February – Cardiff Arms Park

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

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