All-Ireland League to restart in 2021 as IRFU reveals season plan

Domestic club rugby in Ireland will have a new, one-off look for the 2020-21 season with the IRFU unveiling a much-modified format for the resumption of the amateur game.
All-Ireland League to restart in 2021 as IRFU reveals season plan
The All-Ireland League season will consist of just nine rounds of league games followed by semi-finals and finals in all men’s and women’s divisions. Pic: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
The All-Ireland League season will consist of just nine rounds of league games followed by semi-finals and finals in all men’s and women’s divisions. Pic: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Domestic club rugby in Ireland will have a new, one-off look for the 2020-21 season with the IRFU unveiling a much-modified format for the resumption of the amateur game.

Clubs have been out of action since the 2019-20 campaign was cancelled with immediate effect on March 19 due to concerns surrounding the public health emergency and the IRFU’s roadmap for 20-21 issued on Thursday reflects a continuing focus on player welfare and “Covid-19 risk mitigation”.

The new season is to be split into two stages with the first stage comprising friendlies and localised competitive matches between September and December 2020. Stage 2 will see a reformatted Energia All-Ireland League get underway on January 9, 2021.

The AIL season will consist of just nine rounds of league games followed by semi-finals and finals in all men’s and women’s divisions. The size and make-up of each 10-team division remain unchanged from the finishing positions of 2019-20 and there will be no promotion and relegation in this truncated campaign.

Stage 1 competition will see all AIL clubs compete in the Energia Community Series run across newly-formed local conferences based on the four provinces while success in those conferences will bring with them both silverware and the chance to qualify for All-Ireland level knockout rugby in Stage 2 from January.

"Our Return To Rugby Guidelines For Clubs mapped out a ‘safety first’ approach for clubs and we continue to be guided by this and the work of IRFU medical director Rod McLoughlin as we build towards a resumption of competitive rugby in 2020,” IRFU Rugby Committee chair Greg Barrett said.

"While there are many factors which helped shape this season outline, you will see that player welfare and Covid-19 risk mitigation are by far the biggest consideration.

"We are also hopeful that a focus on keeping rugby at a localised level in the first stage of the season brings with it an opportunity for clubs to re-energise their membership."

The IRFU’s timetable for the return to play is as follows:

July 20 - Contact Stage – Building Foundations Phase

August 1 - Contact Stage – Contact Prep Phase

August 29 - Contact Stage – Pre-Season Friendly Fixtures (TBC)

September 5 - Competition Stage – Provincial Fixtures (TBC)

September 26 - Start of IRFU Domestic Competitions sponsored by Energia

January 9 - Start of Energia All-Ireland League

The IRFU on Thursday also announced a return to rugby date of July 20 for provincial academy players, allowing them to train at their respective High Performance Centres under the Covid-19 protocols already in place since senior squads returned on June 22.
The academies will undergo an eight-week pre-season before joining senior players for A team fixtures in late September and early October, although there will be no Celtic Cup competition this season, the IRFU announced.
Three interprovincial 7s tournaments have also been scheduled during September and October which will see academy selections compete with the Ireland 7s squad.

Provincial Representative Season Outline:

September 12, 2020 (PRO14 2019/20 Final Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 1 
September 19, 2020 (EPCR 2019/20 Quarter-Final Weekend) 
Provincial 7s Tournament Rd 1 
September 26, 2020 (EPCR 2019/20 Semi-Final Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 2 
October 3, 2020 (PRO14 2020/21 Rd 1 Weekend) 
Provincial 7s Tournament Rd 2 
October 10, 2020 (PRO14 2020/21 Rd 2 Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 3 
October 17, 2020 (EPCR 2019/20 Final Weekend) 
Provincial 7s Tournament Rd 3 
December 12, 2020 (EPCR 2020/21 Pool Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 4 
January 16, 2021 (EPCR 2020/21 Pool Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 5 
April 3, 2021 (EPCR 2020/21 Quarter-final Weekend) 
Provincial A Fixtures Rd 6

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