The Irish club game has received a major boost this afternoon with the announcement that emerging players from Munster, Leinster and Ulster will compete in a new British & Irish Cup from next season.
The Irish provinces will be joined by 21 other teams from the second tier of the English league, the Welsh Premiership and the Scottish Premiership One.
The competition will be played over five weekends during the Autumn international and Six Nations windows.
The semi-finals and finals will take place in April and May.
IRFU Director of Rugby Eddie Wigglesworth believes the cup will prove very valuable to the development of up and coming players.
'From an Irish perspective we welcome the introduction of the British & Irish Cup which will provide a very competitive professional game structure to meet the needs of our emerging contracted players,' he is quoted as saying on www.irishrugby.ie.
He continued: 'The teams involved are well known rugby entities in their own right and, in conjunction with our existing internal structures, will ensure that this group of contracted professionals have the necessary professional game exposure to meet the increasingly competitive demands at Magners League and Heineken Cup levels.
'It also provides a unique cross-border game opportunity for Irish coaches and referees.
'Overall, the British & Irish Cup introduces a more structured approach to the existing Ireland provincial 'A' game programme in each province.
‘In 2009/10, this competition when combined with the existing 'A' interprovincial series will deliver the same number of games as agreed last year, with only the semi-final and finals additional games.
'Games will take place over the extended weekends (Thursday to Sunday) and will not conflict at any point in the season with the AIB League weekends or the latter stages of the AIB Cup.
'The Irish rugby scene, in the context of our neighbours, is small but very dynamic and thankfully very productive player-wise.
'We need this additional professional game opportunity to augment the existing provincial Academy and Development player structure and also need a very strong domestic league.
'The AIB League represents the top level of our domestic game and professional player involvement in the AIB League is important to both the clubs and our professional structure.
'We believe this more structured approach can alleviate many of the current interface issues in the coming seasons.'
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