The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has today announced a partnership with incoming US Major League Rugby franchise the New England Free Jacks.
The agreement will see the creation of a series of development fixtures which will see the four provincial 'A' teams travel to Boston in March and April next year.
The dates for Munster's games are April 6 and 10. April 6 is the same day as the second last round of games in the All-Ireland League, a round which would have featured most if not all of the Munster 'A' squad. The second tie, four days later, comes just three days before the final round of games in Ireland's domestic league.
The announcement will come as quite the shock to AIL managers, who now must plan for the last two rounds of games without their star players.
The IRFU statement this evening confirmed,
The New England Free Jacks are set to join US Major League Rugby from 2020 and will host development sides from Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster in Boston next spring. Each provincial squad will play two games in Boston – one against the hosts the New England Free Jacks and another against a fellow provincial side.
Connacht will be the first team to take on the Free Jacks on 16th March and will then play Ulster on the 20th March before returning to Galway. Ulster will then play the Free Jacks on 24th March before returning to Belfast.
Munster will play the Free Jacks on the 6th April and then play Leinster on the 10th April in Boston ahead of returning to Limerick. Leinster will then play the New Jacks on the 14th April before returning to Dublin.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented, "We are delighted to be partnering with the New England Free Jacks for this development opportunity which follows on from the success of the Celtic Cup earlier in the season.
Our provincial development sides will face the challenge of preparing for two competitive fixtures within an eight day window while also having to manage recovery and operating in a new environment. The combination of these elements will further accelerate their progress as developing professionals.
The New England Free Jacks are in an exciting phase of their development as they continue to build towards competing in Major League Rugby in 2020. This series of games provides valuable exposure for our emerging talent and one which we believe will be mutually beneficial to both Irish and US rugby."
Saturday 16th March 2019
New England Free Jacks v Connacht
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Connacht v Ulster
Sunday 24th March 2019
New England Free Jacks v Ulster
Saturday 6th April 2019
New England Free Jacks v Munster
Wednesday 10th April 2019
Munster v Leinster
Sunday 14th April 2019
Leinster v New England Free Jacks