Celtic Challenge expands to home and away format

 Ellie Tromans of Brython Thunder scores a try
This season's Celtic Challenge doubled in size from three to six teams [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

The Celtic Challenge is to be played on a home and away basis in an expanded format in the 2024-25 season.

It means the competition will be played by the six teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales over 10 rounds, starting in December.

The tournament involving two teams from each nation will conclude in March, before the Women's Six Nations, with the winner based on final league standings.

Expanding the Celtic Challenge is seen as another step in the growth of the women's game as well as providing player development before the 2025 World Cup.

World Rugby said the first women's cross-border club competition had seen "impressive gains" this season with increased attendances, broadcast agreements and helped "bridge the gap" between domestic and Test rugby in the three nations.

Launched in 2022, the Celtic Challenge doubled in size this season, from three to six teams, which included the introduction of teams from Scotland.

Brython Thunder and Gwalia Lightning represent Wales. Ireland have Irish Wolfhounds and Clovers with Scotland fielding Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.

This year's tournament was won by Wolfhounds, with Edinburgh second, while 68 players went on to feature in the Six Nations, including eight making their Test debuts.

Nigel Walker, Welsh Rugby Union’s executive director of rugby, added he thought the competition had just "scratched the surface" of its potential.

“We are highly ambitious around the Celtic Challenge," he said.

"It has already proved its value from a performance point of view and players and coaches will see it as a pivotal step in the pathway to professional and international recognition.

“It is a key part of [our] strategy for the women’s game and has already seen the likes of Gwennan Hopkins, Sian Jones, Molly Reardon, Catherine Richards and Mollie Wilkinson play in the tournament and then make their Wales debuts in the Six Nations."

Dorothy Wall of Clovers charges forward
Irish Wolfhounds were unbeaten this season, winning five and drawing one game. [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

Irish Rugby’s head of women's performance Gillian McDarby said the tournament is "integral" to growing the game in Ireland and ensuring a competitive national team

Gemma Fay, Scottish Rugby's head of women strategy added: “The 2023-24 Celtic Challenge has been successful for Scottish Rugby in supporting us to provide another step in our pipeline to international rugby in Scotland, including Alex Stewart who earned her first cap.

“The expansion of the competition this season has also given us strong benchmarks to work from both on and off the pitch – from results, player development, media to spectators – and we look forward to exploring how we can further support this for next season.”