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An important year for Irish women’s rugby begins with inter-pros.

With the sensational World Cup that took place in New Zealand the previous year, women’s rugby took a significant step forward.

The high-quality and highly entertaining rugby attracted a lot of new fans to the sport, as well as reassuring long-time supporters that exciting things are happening.

It must have been difficult for Ireland’s international players to endure all the drama.

They regretted once more not being a part of the World Cup, which they would have embraced as a showcase for women’s rugby.

With new head coach Greg McWilliams making good progress in his first year in charge of the national team, the mission to prevent Ireland from ever again failing to qualify is already well underway. To complement the more established Test stars, a crop of talented young players are emerging.

The long-awaited Women in Rugby review was released last month, and the first few full-time contracts for women’s 15s are now in place, with more, one hopes. There are a lot of important points made in these documents, as always, but actions and actual progress speak much louder than words.

The 2023 Inter-Provincial Championship begins today with Leinster hosting Connacht at Energia Park (KO at 2.30 p.m.) and Munster hosting Ulster at Musgrave Park (KO at 4.45 p.m.). This is the beginning of a huge year on the field.

Over the next two weekends, there will be two additional rounds of inter-pros, with all games being broadcast live by TG4 or BBC Northern Ireland. It promises to be interesting viewing due to the inclusion of numerous emerging stars as well as numerous international stars. The reigning champions are Munster, coached by Ireland assistant Niamh Briggs.

The Irish team, known as the Combined Provinces XV, will play a Welsh Development XV in Cardiff the following weekend following the conclusion of the inter-pros on January 21.

That Combined Provinces team will be coached by McWilliams, John McKee, and Briggs, senior Ireland coaches. In February, they will play two games against Scotland’s Thistles XV.

Because of this, McWilliams and his team will be able to prepare the best players from Ireland for the Six Nations, but they won’t have any players who are contracted to English clubs. The IRFU intends to enter two Irish teams into the Celtic Cup the following year, with the goal of having four teams in the competition by 2028.

The All-Ireland League for this year came to a close last month, with Blackrock defeating Railway Union in the championship game. The season was short and went by quickly. The exact role that the AIL will play in the upcoming calendars for women’s rugby remains to be seen.

In the short term, this year’s Six Nations is important for Ireland because they need to finish in the top three to get into the new WXV international competition this fall. The WXV, according to World Rugby, will “revolutionize” women’s soccer.

New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and Australia, as well as the top three teams from the Six Nations—almost certainly England, France, and another—will participate in “WXV 1.”

The tournament is scheduled to take place in a location that has not yet been announced in September or October.

There will be two more levels below, but Ireland clearly wants to keep that kind of business. Even though it would be very difficult for Ireland to compete in WXV 1, it is essential for them to regularly face the best teams if they want to draw them in. They are coming from a very distant past.

In 2022, Ireland won the Six Nations against Italy and Scotland, as well as the first-ever Ireland Women’s tour against Japan. In 2023, things move up a gear. It’s not clear if there will also be summer Tests, but it looks like leading Irish players will have a busy schedule.

The inter-pros, which begin today in Dublin and Cork, are the first step.

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