The inaugural season of the Celtic Challenge kicks off this weekend with development teams from Ireland, Wales and Scotland all involved.
The pilot cross-border competition will feature a WRU Development team, a Scottish Thistles side and an Irish Combined provinces team. The teams are due to be made up of some capped players along with those emerging at the top level of the sport.
The competition is being support by World Rugby, as an attempt to bridge the gap between domestic and international games across the Celtic nations.
The teams will play each other in home and away matches over the coming month and the intention is that the competition will develop further next season with up to six teams, two from each nation.
The Welsh and Scottish teams will face off this weekend at Scotstoun on Sunday, with squads named. Ireland will name their side at the end of this weekend's Interprovincial Series.
The Welsh squad has been in training in recent weeks at the National Centre of Excellence and at the Gnoll and Hill, assisted by WRU Lead Female Age Grade Coach Liza Burgess and Rhys Pritchard,
Pritchard said, “We’ve been really impressed as coaches and the players have really bought into what we’re trying to do. There has been huge improvement in a short space of time and given the difference in age and experience across the squad, the players have made a real effort to gel and get to know each other. We are working closely with club and University coaches both in Wales and across the border and while more than 60 players have trained with us already, the door is certainly not closed.
“The programme is already paying dividends in terms of talent identification and allowing players to develop within a performance environment. There are certainly a number of girls who could well step up to the next level of rugby from this group. The matches will provide invaluable experience in terms of preparation, travelling as a group and performing against teams from other nations. There will be no pressure on the girls for results at this stage. It’s all about development and asking the players to show us what they can do with a smile on their face. Hopefully then, some good performances will follow, results too but that’s certainly not the key factor this season.”
The Thistles Head Coach, Claire Cruikshank, has also announced a 37-player squad.
Cruikshank, who was previously Sweden Women Head Coach and worked with the Scotland Women coaching group last year as part of the Rugby World Cup Coaching Internship programme, will lead the coaching team alongside FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy coach Chris Laidlaw and Performance Coach, Stuart Corsar.
The squad comprises of rising talent within the Scottish Futures programme and Tennent’s Premiership, alongside home-based contracted players Elliann Clarke, Emma Orr, Evie Wills and Meryl Smith.
Speaking of her appointment, Cruikshank said: “I’m delighted to have been appointed Head Coach of The Thistles in what is a really exciting period for women’s rugby in Scotland.
“It’s fantastic to have a competition that helps to bridge the gap between the domestic and the elite game and I’m looking forward to working with this group of players and seeing what they can achieve over the next month.”
The Thistles v WRU Development XV
Sunday 22 January 2023 – Scotstoun 2.30pm
WRU Development XV v Combined Provinces XV
Sunday 29th January 2023 – Cardiff Arms Park 11am
Combined Provinces XV v The Thistles
Saturday 4th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 4.30pm
WRU Development XV v The Thistles
Saturday 11th February – Cardiff Arms Park 4.30pm
Combined Provinces XV v WRU Development XV
Saturday 18th February 2023 – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 4.30pm
The Thistles v Combined Provinces XV
Saturday 25th February 2023 – DAM Health Stadium 1.30pm
Forwards: Aila Ronald (University of Edinburgh), Alex Stewart (University of Edinburgh), Charlotte Boan (Cartha Queens Park), Elliann Clarke (University of Edinburgh), Emma Turner (Corstorphine Cougars), Erinn Foley (Hillhead Jordanhill), Eva Donaldson (University of Edinburgh), Freya Walker (Watsonians), Jess Fyfe (Cartha Queens Park), Katie Lindsey (Stirling County), Kaylee Fraser (Corstorphine Cougars), Kiera McDonald (Stirling County), Kirsty Ritchie (Biggar), Lindsey McDiarmid (Garioch), Molly Poolman (Watsonians), Natasha Logan (University of Edinburgh), Nikki Simpson (Garioch), Poppy Fletcher (Heriot’s), Eve Thomson (Hillhead Jordanhill), Lucy Kidd (Corstorphine Cougars), Sophie Murray (Stirling County)
Backs: Carla McDonald (Hillhead Jordanhill), Ceitidh Ainsworth (Stirling County), Cieron Bell (University of Edinburgh), Emma Orr (Biggar), Evie Wills (Hillhead Jordanhill), Fran McGhie (Watsonians), Hannah Walker (University of Edinburgh), Holly McIntyre (University of Edinburgh), Megan Gaffney (Heriot’s), Meryl Smith (University of Edinburgh), Rachel Law (Watsonians), Rachel Philipps (University of Edinburgh), Rhea Clarke (University of Edinburgh), Roma Fraser (Cartha Queens Park), Sky Phimister (Stirling County), Sarah Denholm (University of Edinburgh)
Forwards: Katie Carr (Pontyclun Falcons, Rosie Carr (Pontyclun Falcons/Cardiff Met), Chelsea Chesters (Whitland), Abbey Constable (Gloucester Hartpury/Cheltenham Tigers ), Teleri Wyn Davies* (Caernarfon), Danielle Dinapoli (Cheltenham Tigers), Kat Evans* (Saracens), Tara Finnegan (Pontyclun Falcons), Abbie Fleming* (Exeter Chiefs), Chloe Fletcher (Bath Ladies), Melissa Gnojek (Seven Sisters), Dali Hopkins (Ospreys/Greyhounds), Gwennan Hopkins (Hartpury College), Katie Jenkins (Pontyclun Falcons), Erin Jones (RGC/ Nant Conwy), Sara Jones (Pontyclun Falcons), Charlotte Mundy (Pontyclun Falcons), Ffion Owen (Pontyclun Falcons/Cardiff Met), Kira Philpott (Llandaff North), Alaw Pyrs (RGC U18s, Nant Conwy), Jessica Rogers (Ospreys U18s, Cardiff Met), Jenni Scoble (Worcester Warriors), Scarlett Thomas-Thompson (DMP Sharks/Durham University), Molly Wakely (Dragons U18s/Nelson Belles)
Backs: Leanne Burnell (Pontyclun Falcons), Lowri Davies (Seven Sisters/Cheltenham Tigers), Meg Davies (Bristol Bears),Jenna De Vera (Scarlets/Burry Port), Chelsea Jones (Nelson Belles), Caitlin Lewis* (Gloucester-Hartpury), Danai Mugabe (Cardiff Met), Jade Mullen (Harlequins), Anwen Owen (Bristol Bears/Nelson Belles), Molly Philpott (Llandaff North), Molly Reardon (Dragons), Catherine Richards (Cardiff Met), Lauren Smyth* (Bristol Bears), Seren Singleton (Cardiff Met), Niamh Tinman (Pontyclun Falcons), Amelia Tutt (Loughborough Lightening), Amy Williams (Dragons U18s), Chelsea Williams (Nelson Belles)
*capped Wales international