A PILOT competition called the Celtic Challenge has been launched to provide more high-performance playing opportunities for women players in Scotland, Ireland and Wales ahead of the 2023 Six Nations Championship.
In year one, the tournament, which is supported by World Rugby, 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, 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.
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.
“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,” said Gemma Fay, Scottish Rugby’s Head of Women & Girls’ Strategy, Gemma Fay.
“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.”
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.
“The three partner Unions have worked closely together to put the necessary supports in place to help establish this competition,” said IRFU Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, Gillian McDarby. “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.”
The WRU will be represented by the WRU Development XV led by Wales forwards coach Mike Hill and assisted by WRU Lead Female Pathway Coach Liza Burgess and Rhys Pritchard.
“We are very excited by this new opportunity to develop players on the female performance pathway,” said WRU Performance Director, Nigel Walker. “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.”
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 Welsh Developmment XV
Saturday 21st / Sunday 22 January 2023 – location TBC
- Welsh 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
- Welsh Development XV v The Thistles
Saturday 11th February – Cardiff Arms Park
- Combined Provinces XV v Welsh Development XV
Saturday 18th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
- The Thistles v Combined Provinces XV
Saturday 25th February 2023 – location TBC