A NEW provincial league covering Munster, Leinster, Connacht, and Ulster will herald in the rugby season at the end of next month.
It’s a pre-runner to the energia All-Ireland League, which, this season, takes on a different hue of one round of fixtures, nine games in all, beginning in January, 2021.
The new competition is labelled the energia Community Series, but it’s effectively provincial leagues, divided into two conferences in Munster, Leinster and Ulster with Connacht having one section of five teams.
The gradings were based on provincial and national league standings from last season, which was declared null and void in March following the Coronavirus outbreak.
There are eight teams in Munster Conference 1, Cashel, Cork Constitution, Garryowen, Highfield, Old Crescent, Shannon, UCC, and Young Munster.
There’s one less in Conference 2, comprising Bruff, Clonmel, Dolphin, Midleton, Nenagh Ormond, Sunday’s Well, and UL Bohemians.
There will be one series of games, starting on September 26 and taking in four rounds in October and two more in November.
And the Community Series has been linked to the Bateman Cup with the three Conference 1 winners in Munster, Leinster and Ulster and the Connacht winners progressing to the semi-finals.
The draw has also been made and it resulted in the Munster winners taking on Connacht and Leinster facing Ulster.
There’s also the introduction of two other Bateman competitions, the Plate and Shield.
This will be played for by the teams who finish second in Conference 1 with the same draw of Munster v Connacht and Leinster v Ulster.
The Shield competition is for Conference 2 clubs and will feature the winners in Munster, Leinster and Ulster as well as the third-placed team in Connacht.
It’s expected those games will be played in December in advance of the AIL.
Teams will become quite familiar with one another as many of the sides will also square up in the national league in the New Year.
For example, in Conference 1, Con, UCC, Garryowen, and Young Munster form part of division 1A in the All-Ireland League and it’s the same for Highfield and Shannon in division 1B.
Conference 2 also has games featuring clubs in the same sections in the AIL, like Dolphin, Nenagh Ormond, UL Bohs, and Old Crescent in division 2A and Midleton, Sundays Well, Bruff, and Clonmel in division 2C.
However, all this is predicated by the green light signalled by Government, who are monitoring closely the outbreaks of new Covid 19 cases.
At the moment, rugby has entered phase 3 of the return to play protocols which allows for contact with pre-season friendlies planned for the end of the month.
Greg Barrett is chairman of the IRFU’S Rugby Committee and said clubs were returning in a safe and responsible manner.
“The season’s structure is an extension of that,” he added.
“And where clubs meet again in the AIL, the fixture has been reversed.”
Munster Conference 1
Sept 26: Cork Con v Old Crescent, Highfield v Garryowen, Shannon v Cashel, Young Munster v UCC.
Oct 3: Cashel v Highfield, Garryowen v Cork Con, Old Crescent v Young Munster, UCC v Shannon.
Oct 10: Cork Con v Cashel, Shannon v Highfield, UCC v Old Crescent, Young Munster v Garryowen.
Oct 24: Cashel v Young Munster, Garryowen v UCC, Highfield v Cork Con, Old Crescent v Shannon.
Oct 31: Old Crescent v Garryowen, Shannon v Cork Con, UCC v Cashel, Young Munster v Highfield.
Nov 7: Cashel v Old Crescent, Cork Con v Young Munster, Highfield v UCC, Shannon v Garryowen.
Nov 21: Garryowen v Cashel, Old Crescent v Highfield, UCC v Cork Con, Young Munster v Shannon.
Munster Conference 2
Sept 26: Bruff v Sundays Well, Dolphin v Midleton, Nenagh Ormond v Clonmel.
Oct 3: Clonmel v Bruff, Midleton v Nenagh Ormond, Ul Bohs v Dolphin.
Oct 10: Bruff v Midleton, Nenagh Ormond v UL Bohs, Sundays Well v Clonmel.
Oct 24: Dolphin v Nenagh Ormond, Midleton v Sundays Well, Ul Bohs v Bruff.
Oct 31: Bruff v Dolphin, Clonmel v Midleton, Sundays Well v UL Bohs.
Nov 7: Dolphin v Sundays Well, Nenagh Ormond v Bruff, UL Bohs v Clonmel.
Nov 21: Clonmel v Dolphin, Midleton v UL Bohs, Sundays Well v Nenagh Ormond.