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The Magners League is an annual rugby union competition involving regional sides from Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker. It is one of the three major leagues in Europe, along with the English Guinness Premiership and the French Top 14. The league champion is currently determined solely from league performance, however from the 2009–10 season, it is intended to introduce a play-off structure, similar to the Guinness Premiership. It was originally known as the Celtic League (Irish: An tSraith Cheilteach) (Welsh: Y Gynghrair Geltaidd)

The Magners League season takes place between September and May, with each team playing every other team on a home and away basis. Magners League matches avoid the traditional international weekends in November and during the Six Nations Championship. The Welsh, Irish and Scottish rugby unions now use the Magners League as the sole determinant for European qualification.

Other nations

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

In late November 2008, the Magners 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. After the meeting, FIR announced that it would submit a proposal to join the Magners 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, comprised solely of Italy-qualified players, exclusively for the competition.

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

London Welsh have in the past expressed an interest in joining the Magners League if promotion/relegation were to be removed from the Premiership in England. Likewise, in 2007, the SRU expressed an interest in setting up a Scottish club in Londonmarker, to play as the third Scottish team in the Magners League.

Italian participation from 2010

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

Praetorians will be based in Rome and will play at the city's Stadio Flaminiomarker, while Aironi will be based in Viadana but will play some matches in the city of Reggio Emiliamarker.

On October 2, the Federazione Italiana Rugby decided to propose Benetton Treviso in place of Praetorians Roma.

Media coverage

The Magners League is shown live on BBC Two Wales, Setanta Ireland and also the Welsh channel S4C. The BBC Two Wales matches are usually made available to the rest of the United Kingdommarker via BBC Red Button. In Scotlandmarker, the Scottish broadcaster STV broadcasts a weekly highlights show, with the derbies between Glasgow and Edinburgh so far the only live coverage confirmed, although the broadcaster has hinted that live coverage may be increased in the future. BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic channel, will occasionally show highlights on its sports programme, Spòrs, for the Gaelic community.Sporadic coverage of the tournament can be found in other territories – mainly on Canal Plus in France, and on various Setanta Sports channels around the globe.The UK broadcasters hold the rights until 2010.

It has been announced that TG4 and RTÉmarker are to show the games live, TG4 had previously held the Irish rights. This will mean that Live coverage will now not be apart of Setanta Ireland's schedule.

In Australia, Canadamarker, and the United Statesmarker, Setanta Sports broadcasts the Magners League.

2009–10 teams

Team Stadium (& Capacity) City/Area
Cardiff Blues Cardiff City Stadiummarker (26,828) & Millennium Stadiummarker (74,500) Cardiffmarker, Walesmarker
Connacht (Ireland) Galway Sportsgroundsmarker (7,000) Galwaymarker, Irelandmarker
Edinburgh Murrayfield Stadiummarker (67,800, limited to 12,464 seats in the lower tier of the West Stand for Magners League games) Edinburghmarker, Scotlandmarker
Glasgow Warriors Firhillmarker (10,887) Glasgowmarker, Scotlandmarker
Leinster (Ireland) RDS Arenamarker (18,500) & Donnybrookmarker (12,500) Dublinmarker, Irelandmarker
Munster (Ireland) Thomond Parkmarker (26,000) & Musgrave Parkmarker (8,300) Limerickmarker/Corkmarker, Irelandmarker
Newport Gwent Dragons Rodney Parademarker (12,000) Newportmarker, Walesmarker
Ospreys Liberty Stadiummarker (20,500) Swanseamarker, Walesmarker
Scarlets Parc y Scarletsmarker (14,870) Llanellimarker, Walesmarker
Ulster (Ireland) Ravenhill Stadiummarker (12,800) Belfastmarker, Northern Irelandmarker


Former teams

Team Years Stadia and capacity City/Area
Border Reivers 2002–2007 Netherdale, 6,000 Galashielsmarker, Scotlandmarker
Celtic Warriors 2003–2004 Brewery Fieldmarker, 12,000 and Sardis Roadmarker, 8,000 Bridgendmarker and Pontypriddmarker, Walesmarker


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, Pontypriddmarker 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.

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 second (2002–03) season's format was identical 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 by 37 points to 17. The final of 2003 was played in Cardiff.

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 RBS Six Nations Championship prevented many of the league's top stars from playing in over half the games. This meant that commercially the league has struggled, especially regarding the newly adopted regions in Walesmarker where the game has always traditionally been played on a club basis, not having the regional histories of Irelandmarker or Scotlandmarker. The season ended with the Llanelli Scarlets running out as eventual winners, four points ahead of Ulster.

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.

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 – this proved however to be merely a publicity "bubble".

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.

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. The sponsorship follows on from Magners' existing presence in rugby union with sponsorship deals with Edinburgh and the London Waspsmarker.

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 Caledonian Reds, the forgotten Scottish region, being reopened. But for the meantime Scotland would have only two professional teams based in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The league was won by the Ospreys on the final day of fixtures. The Blue's 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.

The league's record attendance was smashed in this season with a full house at Lansdowne Roadmarker (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 Firhillmarker. 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.

In April 2008, it was announced that the Magners 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 Magners League in line with other major leagues such as the Guinness Premiership and Super 14.

Previous results

Celtic League
Season Teams Winner Runner-up
2001–02 15 Leinster (Ireland) Munster (Ireland)
2002–03 16 Munster (Ireland) Neath
2003–04 12 Llanelli Scarlets Ulster (Ireland)
2004–05 11 Ospreys Munster (Ireland)
2005–06 11 Ulster (Ireland) Leinster (Ireland)
2006–07 11 Ospreys Cardiff Blues
2007–08 10 Leinster (Ireland) Cardiff Blues
2008–09 10 Munster (Ireland) Edinburgh


Celtic Cup
Season Teams Winner Runner-up
2001–02 Celtic Cup not contested
2002–03
2003–04 12 Ulster (Ireland) Edinburgh
2004–05 8 Munster (Ireland) Llanelli Scarlets
2005–06 Celtic Cup not contested
2006–07
2007–08
2008–09


Statistics



Play-offs

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

Starting in the 2009-10 season the Magners League will be decided by play-offs. This consists of the top four clubs of the league entering into a semi final with the winners progressing onto a grand final to determine its champion. Debates continue for and against the proposal, which echo similar arguments that preceded the introduction of similar play-offs in the Guinness Premiership.

See also



References

  1. Although Murrayfield's full capacity is 67,800, only the lower section of the West Stand, with a capacity of 12,464, is generally opened for Edinburgh fixtures.
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/7341673.stm


External links




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