THE IRFU IS branching into US rugby after announcing that the four provincial A teams will travel to Boston next year to take part in a new series of development fixtures.
Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster will send teams to the States in March and April to play two games each in a series of fixtures involved incoming Major League Rugby side, the New England Free Jacks.
Leinster A and Munster A clash in a recent Celtic Cup game.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
The US is an increasingly attractive market in the world of rugby after a promising first season for Major League Rugby in 2018.
This announcement also comes at a time when the IRFU has had concerns over where the provinces’ development players will get high-level playing exposure.
The provinces’ A teams played in the British and Irish Cup against Welsh and Scottish A side, as well as English Championship clubs, until the end of last season, when the competition was disbanded.
The Celtic Cup launched this season, involving only the Irish and Welsh A teams and was played out over a seven-week period at the beginning of the campaign, resulting in Leinster A winning the first-ever title after beating Scarlets in the final.
The IRFU had hoped to restructure the All-Ireland League in order to close the gap between amateur and professional rugby, with two top divisions of eight teams, but the AIL clubs rejected that proposal and future plans remain unclear.
This new partnership with the New England Free Jacks – who are set to join MLR in 2020 – will provide a further two fixtures for each of the provincial A teams later this season and may be the first step in a bigger move into the US market for the IRFU.
The new venture into the US will likely prove highly unpopular with the AIL clubs, as the US-based fixtures are set to directly clash with the crucial final regular season rounds of the Irish domestic leagues, therefore depriving clubs of many key players.
“We are delighted to be partnering with the New England Free Jacks for this development opportunity which follows on from the success of the Celtic Cup earlier in the season,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
“Our provincial development sides will face the challenge of preparing for two competitive fixtures within an eight-day window while also having to manage recovery and operating in a new environment.
“The combination of these elements will further accelerate their progress as developing professionals.
“The New England Free Jacks are in an exciting phase of their development as they continue to build towards competing in Major League Rugby in 2020. This series of games provides valuable exposure for our emerging talent and one which we believe will be mutually beneficial to both Irish and US rugby.”
‘Development Round Robin’ fixtures:
(All fixtures take place in Boston)
Saturday 16 March 2019
New England Free Jacks v Connacht
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