Celtic League (rugby union)


Celtic League (rugby union)
Celtic League (rugby union)
Current season or competition:
2011–12 Celtic League
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 2001
Number of teams 12
Nations Ireland Ireland
 Scotland
 Wales
 Italy
Holders Ireland Munster (2010–11)
Most titles Wales Ospreys & Ireland Munster (3 titles)
Website Official site

The Celtic League (known as the RaboDirect PRO12 for sponsorship reasons[1]) is an annual rugby union competition involving professional sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

Beginning in the 2001–02 season, the league was originally known as the Celtic League (Irish: An tSraith Cheilteach) (Welsh: Y Gynghrair Geltaidd)[2] and comprised teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The league was sponsored by Irish cider makers Magners from the 2006–07 season until 2010-11. At the start of the 2010-11 season, two new Italian entrants competed in the league. Following the end of Magners sponsorship, from the 2011–12 season the league will be sponsored by RaboDirect for four seasons.[3][4]

The league is one of the three major professional leagues in Europe, along with the English Aviva Premiership and the French Top 14.

Until the 2008–09 season the league champion was determined solely from league performance. However from the 2009–10 season, a play-off structure was re-introduced, similar to that used in the English Premiership.[5]

Contents

Tournament format

The league season takes place between September and May, with each team playing every other team on a home and away basis. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top four placed teams enter the semi-final stage, with the winner of the first vs fourth and second vs third playoffs entering the Grand Final. The venue for the Grand Final is chosen by the highest placed team in the regular season. League matches traditionally avoided the traditional international weekends in November and during the Six Nations Championship, however this will no longer necessarily be the case from the 2010–11 season onwards due to the increased number of games. Two Italian teams – the ex-Super 10 team Benetton Rugby Treviso, and a new team, Aironi – joined the league starting with the 2010–11 season. The Welsh, Irish and Scottish rugby unions now use the league as the sole determinant for European qualification, and the Italian union uses it as the sole determinant for Heineken Cup qualification.

Corporate organisation

The legal name of the body running the competition is Celtic Rugby Limited, an Irish private company limited by shares based in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. The company is owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union, the Scottish Rugby Union and the Italian Rugby Federation. The board of directors consists of two representatives appointed by each Union and an independent chairman. As and from the start of the 2010–11 season, the league is being managed out of the same office of the RBS 6 Nations and the British and Irish Lions and sharing a chief executive (John Feehan) and staff with these two organisations.[6]

Other nations

Talks have been held intermittently with both Italy[7][8] and South Africa[9][10] about the possible expansion of the Celtic League. A Rainbow Cup involving South African and Italian teams was announced in 2005,[11] but because of financial issues on the European end of the deal[10] and changes in the leadership of the South African Rugby Union (SARU), the idea was abandoned before a ball was kicked.

In February 2009, rumours spread that South Africa was negotiating entry of its current Super 14 teams into the Celtic League, to take effect when the current media contract between SANZAR and News Corporation expires after the 2010 season,[10] although these rumours were immediately denied by SA Rugby, the commercial arm of SARU.[12]

London Welsh have in the past expressed an interest in joining the Celtic League if promotion and relegation were to be removed from the English Premiership.[13]

Italian participation from 2010–11

In late November 2008, the Celtic League board met to again discuss the possibility of Italian participation, and agreed to further explore the issue. On 5 December, the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis, stated that the league was looking "favourably" on Italian participation. This was in advance of a 19 December board meeting of the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) to discuss the poor showing of their national team in the end-of-year Test series and proposals to improve the standard of Italian rugby.[14] After the meeting, FIR announced that it would submit a proposal to join the Celtic League. FIR indicated that it had two possibilities on the table — either entering four existing Italian clubs from the Super 10 into the league; or creating two teams, composed solely of Italy-qualified players, exclusively for the competition.[15]

On 18 July 2009, the FIR announced that Aironi and Praetorians Roma had lobbied successfully, and would compete in the Celtic League from the start of the 2010–11 season – beating bids from Benetton Rugby Treviso and Duchi Nord-Ovest.

Praetorians would be based in Rome and would play at the city's Stadio Flaminio, while Aironi will be based in Viadana but would play some matches in the city of Reggio Emilia.[16]

On 2 October 2009, the FIR decided to propose Benetton Treviso in place of Praetorians Roma.[17]

On 28 January 2010, the FIR declared that they had withdrawn from all negotiations with the board of the Celtic League regarding two Italian teams joining the 2010–11 tournament, with the main issue being a €3 million warranty asked for by the board of the league.[18][19][20] However, on 7 February, it emerged that the Italian clubs had come up with the required funding.[21]

On 8 March 2010, it was confirmed that a deal had been finalised for Aironi and Benetton Treviso to enter the Celtic League from the 2010–11 season. They were also guaranteed the Italian places in the Heineken Cup.[22]

Media coverage

As of 2010–11 the League is broadcast live on BBC Two Wales, BBC Two Northern Ireland, RTE, the Irish language channel TG4, the Scottish Gaelic channel BBC Alba, the Welsh channel S4C.[23] While it operated, the Italian pay-TV broadcaster Dahlia TV also broadcast the league.[24] The BBC Two Wales matches are usually made available to the rest of the United Kingdom via BBC Red Button. Complete match replays are also available on the BBC iPlayer. Each broadcaster provides feed to the others for matches in their home territory. While this means that the league is now available free to air in the UK and Ireland, in Italy it was only available on a subscription basis. In February 2011 Dahlia TV went into liquidation, and at present there is no host broadcaster for league games in Italy. BBC NI and TG4 covered the league from 2001 to 2004 before Setanta purchased the rights leaving the league only being live on FTA TV in Wales but because of the new deal people in Northern Ireland and Scotland can now see the tournament for free.

Setanta Sports previously held the live rights for Ireland and Scotland, along with a large number of international territories. STV took over the broadcast rights in Scotland after Setanta closed in the UK in 2009 and still cover the league in a weekly highlights programme. Despite no longer having the live rights, Setanta Ireland will continue to show RaboDirect Pro12 games on a tape-delayed and highlights basis during the 2010–11 season.[25]

Sporadic coverage of the tournament can be found in other territories – on Canal Plus in France, and on various Setanta Sports channels around the globe (including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South East Asia and the Middle East). The United States rights, formerly held by Setanta, are now held by News Corporation's Fox Soccer Plus.[26]

Broadcast coverage history

From 2004 to 2009, the Scottish and Irish rights were owned by Setanta Sports. Setanta closed down in Scotland in 2009, but Setanta Ireland and Setanta Sports 1 remained available to Irish subscribers. In 2010, RTÉ Sport, BBC Northern Ireland, TG4, BBC Wales and BBC Alba came together to buy the Celtic League broadcasting rights.[27]

Teams

The league is based on regionalised/provincial representation of the participating nations, except for Benetton Treviso which represents the city of Treviso itself. Benetton Treviso was selected for its long history after the project of a second Italian regional team, Praetorians Roma, failed[28] .

2011–12 teams

Team Stadium (capacity) City, Area
Italy Aironi Stadio Luigi Zaffanella, (6,000) & Stadio Giglio (29,546) Viadana/Parma/Reggio Emilia, Lombardy & Emilia Romagna, Italy
Italy Benetton Treviso Stadio Comunale di Monigo, (6,700) Treviso, Veneto, Italy
Wales Cardiff Blues Cardiff City Stadium (26,828) Cardiff, Wales
Ireland Connacht Galway Sportsgrounds (7,500) Galway, Republic of Ireland
Scotland Edinburgh Murrayfield Stadium (67,130) Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland Glasgow Warriors Firhill Stadium (10,921) Glasgow, Scotland
Ireland Leinster RDS Arena (18,500) & Aviva Stadium (51,700) Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Ireland Munster Thomond Park (26,500) & Musgrave Park (9,251) Limerick/Cork, Republic of Ireland
Wales Newport Gwent Dragons Rodney Parade (11,676) Newport, Wales
Wales Ospreys Liberty Stadium (20,532) Swansea, Wales
Wales Scarlets Parc y Scarlets (14,870) Llanelli, Wales
Ireland Ulster Ravenhill Stadium (12,300) Belfast, Northern Ireland

Former teams

Team Years Stadia and capacity City/Area
Scotland Border Reivers 2002–2007 Netherdale, 6,000 Galashiels and Hawick, Scotland
Wales Celtic Warriors 2003–2004 Brewery Field, 12,000 and Sardis Road, 8,000 Bridgend and Pontypridd, Wales

History

The Celtic League Logo

Wales and Scotland had joined forces for the 1999 and 2000 seasons, with the expansion of the Welsh Premier Division to include Edinburgh and Glasgow to form the Welsh-Scottish League.

In 2001, an agreement was made between the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to create a new competition which would bring in the four Irish provinces. 2001 would see the very first incarnation of the Celtic League.

Some saw the competition as the forerunner of a British/Irish league with teams from England also taking part. The WRU had previously negotiated with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to form an Anglo-Welsh league but negotiations had broken down over how many teams from each union would take part.

2001–02

The first season would see fifteen teams compete: the four Irish provinces (Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster), two Scottish teams (Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow) and all nine Welsh Premier Division teams (Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale, Llanelli, Neath, Newport, Pontypridd and Swansea).

Played alongside each country's own national competitions, the teams were split into two groups (of 8 and 7) and played a series of round-robin matches with each team playing the other only once. The top four teams from each group proceeded into the knock-out phase until a champion was found. Clashes between teams in the Welsh-Scottish League also counted towards the new competition.

The 2001–02 competition was dominated by the Irish teams with all four sides reaching the last eight, three progressing to the semi-finals, and the thrilling final played at Lansdowne Road contested between Leinster and Munster with Leinster running out 24–20 winners.[29]

2002–03

The demands of the Celtic League led to the Scottish/Welsh league being abandoned in 2002. The Irish inter-provincial championship was also downgraded.

The format of the league remained the same for the second season, except for the addition of a third Scottish side, the newly re-established Scottish Borders.

Surprisingly, the champions Leinster failed to make the quarter-final stage in 2003. In their absence, Munster went on to easily win the competition by beating Connacht (QF 33–3), Ulster (SF 42–10), and Neath in the final 37–17. The final of 2003 was played in Cardiff.[30]

2003–04

A major change in Celtic League philosophy came during the early part of 2003, partly due to the commercial success of the league itself but mostly because of the Welsh Regional Rugby's financial constraints that left Wales with only five fully professional clubs. It was decided that the Celtic League would become the sole professional league of the three countries, incorporating all four Irish, three Scottish and the five new Welsh (Cardiff Blues, Celtic Warriors, Llanelli Scarlets, Neath-Swansea Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons).

Reformatted into a traditional league competition (double round-robin style, all clubs play each other twice, once home, once away), which meant that a season long 22-round match program was launched, and with a new strength in depth due to the amalgamation of Welsh teams and the continuing strengthening of Irish and Scottish teams through the re-signing and retention of star players, the league has been in rugby terms a success. Also introduced for the 2003–04 season was the Celtic Cup, a straight knock-out cup competition between the 12 Celtic League teams.

However the unfortunate timing of the league's launch and poor organisation of a working calendar meant that first the 2003 Rugby World Cup and later the Six Nations Championship prevented many of the league's top stars from playing in over half the games. This caused the league to struggle commercially, especially regarding the newly adopted regions in Wales where the game has always traditionally been played on a club basis, not having the regional histories of Ireland or Scotland. The season ended with the Llanelli Scarlets running out as eventual winners, four points ahead of Ulster.[31]

2004–05

The league format was further refined at the end of the 2003–04 season, with the participants deciding to better manage the dates of the matches so as to not interfere with the national squad set-ups and to make the league more commercially viable. The league was played until April and then the Celtic Cup competition was contested amongst the top eight teams of the league.

However even the prospect of the improved league structure wasn't enough to keep all the competitors viable with the liquidation of the Celtic Warriors region by the WRU, which meant that starting in 2004–05, Wales would have only four entrants in a league of eleven teams.

The new format took the league into what many saw as a make-or-break season, clear of massive distractions such as the Rugby World Cup. With the Welsh regions partly embedded, the signs were that the Celtic League would be a competition that could continue for many years to come.

The 2004–05 season was the first season that Ireland agreed to use the Celtic League standings to determine which provinces would enter the Heineken Cup. The IRFU had always previously classed Connacht as a "development" team and so nominated Leinster, Munster and Ulster over Connacht – fearing the loss of revenue from one of the "big three" teams failing to qualify for the Heineken European Cup.

The IRFU also insisted on International team squad training sessions taking precedence over Celtic League matches – a consequence of this was that Irish provinces (especially Munster and Leinster) often fielded virtual second teams for Celtic League games. This had the effect of devaluing the competition – however, despite this apparent half-hearted approach – Irish teams finished second (Munster) and third (Leinster) in the league, as well as winning the Celtic Cup (Munster). The Ospreys were crowned eventual champions making it two in a row for Welsh regional sides.[32]

There was an announcement that a "Rainbow Cup" would replace the Celtic Cup with 4 Italian sides and 9 South African provincial sides alongside the Celtic League sides. It was also suggested that Italian sides might join an expanded Celtic League – whilst this proved to be merely a publicity "bubble" at the time, it would eventually materialise in 2010.

2005–06

In 2005, there were discussions over a potential Anglo-Welsh cup competition which some saw as undermining the Celtic League. Despite Welsh assurances that the proposed Anglo-Welsh tournament would not interfere with their commitments to either the Celtic League in its present format or an expanded 'Rainbow League', the SRU and IRFU claimed that the WRU had made arrangements to play games on five weekends without regard to Celtic League fixtures. The SRU and IRFU purported to expel the Welsh sides from the Celtic League in June 2005. It was proposed that the competition would continue as a Scottish and Irish affair for the 2005–06 season, with the possible addition of four Italian sides and the re-admittance of Welsh sides for the 2006–07 season. A deal was then reached that allowed for the Celtic League to continue with the Welsh sides readmitted, with some fixtures involving Welsh clubs restructured to accommodate the Anglo-Welsh cup.

Despite these problems, the league enjoyed its most successful season, with the record attendance at a Celtic League match being broken four times from 12,436 at the Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons match in December to 15,327 for the Cardiff Blues v Leinster match at the Millennium Stadium. The total attendances for the season were up nearly 50,000 at 571,331 compared to 521,449 for the previous season.

The league went down to the last round with Ulster and Leinster both in contention. Following Leinster's victory over Edinburgh and with Ulster losing against the Ospreys, it looked like the cup would go to Dublin but David Humphreys kicked a last minute 40 metre drop goal to clinch the game and the league for Ulster.[33]

2006–07

In May 2006, Magners Irish Cider were named as the competition sponsors for the next five seasons, and the league was renamed as the Magners League. Although the brand is known as Bulmers Irish Cider in the Republic of Ireland, the Magners name is still used there for the league.[34] The sponsorship follows on from Magners' existing presence in rugby union with sponsorship deals with Edinburgh and the London Wasps.

The Scottish Rugby Union announced that the Borders territory would be disbanded from the end of the 2006–07 season. And that it will be reopened when the Scottish Rugby Union debt decreases and it is financial suitable to reopen the territory along with a possible fourth Scottish territory (Four professional teams being the original plan for the SRU) with Falkirk, Stirling or a London based team being possible locations; or even the Caledonia Reds, the forgotten Scottish region, being reopened. But for the meantime Scotland would have only two professional teams based in Edinburgh and Glasgow.[35]

The league was won by the Ospreys on the final day of fixtures. The Blues' home win over Leinster allowed the Ospreys to top the league by a single point and take the title with an away win at Borders.[36]

The league's record attendance was smashed in this season with a full house at Lansdowne Road (48,000) for Leinster v Ulster. This was the last game in the stadium prior to its demolition, and was billed as "The Last Stand".

2007–08

Only ten teams competed in the 2007–08 season, after the Borders were disbanded at the end of the 2006–07 season. Glasgow Warriors moved their home games to Firhill.[37] After missing out on the title on the last day for the previous two seasons, Leinster finally won the 2007–08 title with one game remaining, however they had been runaway leaders for much of the season.[38]

In April 2008, it was announced that the Celtic League was to introduce a play-off system at the end of the season, commencing in the 2009–10 season, to determine the league winner, thus generating a greater climax to the league campaign and also to bring the league in line with other major leagues such as the Guinness Premiership and Super 14.[39]

2008–09

The 2008–09 season was decided quite early in the season as Munster claimed the title without playing, as they were preparing for their Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster. The final challenge from Ospreys was snuffed out when the Dragons denied them a bonus point win on 30 April. Munster had lead pretty much from the start of the season with a team largely captained by Mick O'Driscoll showing Munster's squad depth. Munster lost only four games, three to to the other Irish teams, including a double loss to Ulster. Felipe Contepomi finish as league top scorer for Leinster, the year they went on to win the Heineken Cup.

2009–10

The 2009–10 season was the last 10-team league as the Italian teams joined in 2010–11. The league was one of the most competitive in years with perennial wooden-spooners Connacht challenging Ulster all the way for the 3rd Irish Heineken Cup spot. Ulster needed a superb away bonus point win at Edinburgh to seal it, ending Edinburgh's own play-off hopes. Scarlets had a disappointing campaign as typical Welsh underdogs the Dragons had a great season, eventually finishing mid table and comfortably qualifying for the Heineken Cup. Luckily for the Scarlets, Cardiff Blues won the Amlin Cup and thereby earned Wales an extra Heineken Cup place. 2009–10 was also the first time a play-off was used to decide the champion, previously the top team at the end of the season was champion. The Scottish teams and particularly Glasgow came of age and had a fine season, finishing 3rd in the end. The 4 qualifiers for the play-offs were Leinster, Ospreys, Glasgow and Munster in that order, each country having at least one team. In the semi-finals Leinster defeated Munster at the RDS,[40] after Ospreys overcame Glasgow in Swansea. In the Grand Final at the RDS in Dublin the Ospreys shocked Leinster, winning the title with their first win in Dublin in five years.[41]

Results

By year

Celtic League
Season Teams Winner Runner-up
2001–02 15 Ireland Leinster Ireland Munster
2002–03 16 Ireland Munster Wales Neath
2003–04 12 Wales Llanelli Scarlets Ireland Ulster
2004–05 11 Wales Ospreys Ireland Munster
2005–06 11 Ireland Ulster Ireland Leinster
2006–07 11 Wales Ospreys Wales Cardiff Blues
2007–08 10 Ireland Leinster Wales Cardiff Blues
2008–09 10 Ireland Munster Scotland Edinburgh
2009–10 10 Wales Ospreys Ireland Leinster
2010–11 12 Ireland Munster Ireland Leinster
Celtic Cup
Season Teams Winner Runner-up
2001–02 Celtic Cup not contested
2002–03
2003–04 12 Ireland Ulster Scotland Edinburgh
2004–05 8 Ireland Munster Wales Llanelli Scarlets
2005–06 Celtic Cup not contested
2006–07
2007–08
2008–09
2009–10
2010–11


By championship wins

Team Celtic League titles Years of titles won Runners-up Years runners-up
Ireland Munster 3 2002–03, 2008–09, 2010-11 2 2001–02, 2004–05
Wales Ospreys 3 2004–05, 2006–07, 2009–10 1 2002–03 (as Neath)
Ireland Leinster 2 2001–02, 2007–08 3 2005–06, 2009–10, 2010-11
Ireland Ulster 1 2005–06 1 2003–04
Wales Llanelli Scarlets 1 2003–04 0
Wales Cardiff Blues 0 2 2006–07, 2007–08
Scotland Edinburgh 0 1 2008–09

By country

Country Titles Teams Runners-up Teams
Ireland Ireland 6 Munster (3), Leinster (2), Ulster (1) 6 Leinster (3), Munster (2), Ulster (1)
Wales Wales 4 Ospreys (3), Llanelli Scarlets (1) 3 Cardiff Blues (2), Neath RFC (1)
Scotland Scotland 0 1 Edinburgh Rugby (1)
Italy Italy 0 0

Statistics

Play-offs

Many rugby union club competitions culminate in a play-off series to determine the champion, including Super Rugby, Top 14, and the English Premiership. Up until the 2009–10 season, the Celtic League did not use this format, and champions were decided by the final league table.

Starting with the 2009–10 season the league champion is decided through the play-offs. This consists of the top four clubs of the league entering into a semi final with the winners progressing to the grand final. The winner of the final are crowned league champions.

See also

References

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  4. ^ BBC News
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External links


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  • Rugby union in Australia — Rugby overview country = Australia sport = rugby union union = Australian Rugby Union nickname = Wallabies first = 25 July 1839cite web | publisher=rugby.com.au | title=History of the ARU|url=http://www.rugby.com.au/about the aru/history of the… …   Wikipedia


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