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Re-vamped Celtic Cup should give players more game time

WITH the demise of the British and Irish Cup, it has become more difficult than ever for budding Irish rugby talent within the four provinces to prove themselves on a bigger stage.
Now there is a glimmer of hope for the youngsters in the respective camps with a re-vamped Celtic Cup providing seven games (with a possible eighth game on final day, Saturday, October 12), for the two table-toppers
The competition features development squads from Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Blues, Dragons, Scarlets and the Ospreys.
Fixtures
Weekend 1 – Aug 23, 24, 25
Cardiff v Leinster
Munster v Ospreys
Scarlets v Ulster
Connacht v Dragons
Weekend 2 – Aug 30, 31 Sept 1
Leinster v Scarlets
Dragons v Munster
Ulster v Cardiff Blues
Ospreys v Connacht
Weekend 3 – Sept 6, 7, 8
Munster v Leinster
Ulster v Connacht
Scarlets v Ospreys
Cardiff Blues v Dragons
Weekend 4 – Sept 13, 14, 15
Connacht v Munster
Leinster v Ulster
Ospreys v Cardiff Blues
Dragons v Scarlets
Weekend 5 – Sept 20, 12, 22
Ospreys v Leinster
Munster v Cardiff Blues
Dragons v Ulster
Connacht v Scarlets
Weekend 6 – Sept 27, 28, 29
Leinster v Dragons
Scarlets v Munster
Ulster v Ospreys
Cardiff Blues v Connacht
Weekend 7 – Oct 4, 5, 6
Connacht v Leinster
Ulster v Munster
Cardiff Blues v Scarlets
Dragons v Ospreys
Final – Oct 12

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 U20 Six Nations Grand Slam success.
The following players who featured in the Celtic Cup last season went on to represent their senior provincial side in the Guinness PRO14 – Jack Dunne, Scott Penny, Ryan Baird (All Leinster), Alex McHenry, Liam Coombes, Diarmuid Barron (All Munster), Colm de Buitlear (Connacht), Robert Balacoune, Bruce Houston (Ulster).
Robert Balacoune scored two tries for Ulster in the Champions Cup while Connacht’s Matthew Burke made five appearances in the pool stages of the Challenge Cup.
Members of Ireland’s U20’s squad that achieved a Six Nations Grand Slam and delivered strong performances at the Junior World Cup in Argentina featured prominently in the Celtic Cup at the start of last season – Sean French, Ben Healy, John Hodnett, Josh Wycherley (Munster) Niall Murray, Dylan Tierney-Martin (Connacht) David Hawkshaw, Liam Turner, Tom Clarkson (Leinster) and Stuart Moore(Ulster).
Aaron Sexton was Ulster’s top try scorer in last year’s competition and has since been rewarded with an Academy contract with the northern province.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, 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, IRFU Head of Elite Player Development, commented, “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 eight consecutive 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 8 consecutive weeks. In a change to last year’s format this year’s 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 12th October.

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