The two new Welsh teams to play in the cross-border competition will be Gwalia Lightning and Brython Thunder.
Developed in collaboration with current players, the brands for the two WRU owned franchises are inspired by ‘Brython’, the first Celtic language, and ‘Gwalia’, the original name for Wales, and will kick off the expanded competition in January 2024.
Brython Thunder will wear red and black, be based at Parc y Scarlets and play their home games out of both Parc y Scarlets and Stadiwm CSM in Colwyn Bay.
While Gwalia Lightning will wear Blue and Yellow, be based and train at Cardiff Metropolitan University and play their home games at Cardiff Arms Park.
The new expanded Celtic Challenge will include two teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales and is designed to bridge the gap between club rugby and Test match rugby.
It is made up of six teams across the Celtic nations; Edinburgh Rugby, Glasgow Warriors, Wolfhounds, Clovers, Brython Thunder, and Gwalia Lightning.
The competition will adopt a new format which will be made up of five rounds, before three doubleheader play-off rounds determine who will be this season’s Celtic Challenge champions in March.
Round 1 will see a derby day clash for the home Unions with their respective sides facing off for the first time.
The play-offs will be made up of three rounds, with each round being hosted by a Home Union as a doubleheader event. The fixtures, which will be determined by the regular round standings, will be the culmination of the competition’s most competitive fixtures as teams go head-to-head to be crowned this season’s winners.
John Alder, the WRU’s Head of Player Development, said: “The establishment of these two teams in the new expanded Celtic Challenge underlines the Welsh Rugby Union’s commitment to women’s rugby in Wales and we look to seeing these two teams help develop an exciting new competition for for rugby in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.
The two teams, Gwalia Lightning and Brython Thunder, and their imagery, have been created with unique connections to our history yet with a fresh, and contemporary feel. – We hope all players involved in the women’s game in Wales can not only get excited, but also visualise themselves representing these two new teams.
“Gwalia Lightning and Brython Thunder will play across the country in North, South, East and West Wales in acknowledgment of the growing demand to engage with women’s rugby in Wales.
“Through deliberate investment and focus, the two new franchises are supported by the WRU as we embrace the exciting opportunities for women’s rugby around the world and seek to bridge the development gap between domestic rugby to professional rugby and underpin the national side in the Test arena.”
“The national side is ranked 6th in the world after its performances in the 2023 Six Nations and WXV. Underpinning this development we we are working tirelessly to, grow, and embed a development pathway for high potential players, supported by a dedicated and skilled coaching workforce, that provides high quality opportunity, access, and appropriate competition.
“We need to create ‘more and better players’ for the professional game and for Wales and our approach to the Celtic Challenge will help us achieve this ambition.
“The Celtic Challenge pilot in early 2023 proved invaluable for emerging Test stars like Abbie Fleming and Lisa Neumann last season to, not only get game-time ahead of the Six Nations, but challenge for national contracts and test selection. Through our two new teams we hope to provide invaluable playing opportunities for our current Test squad and help develop our emerging generation of young players and discover new players”
More than 70 players from Welsh clubs and outside of Wales attended a two-day open trial at the WRU’s Centre of Excellence last weekend, with players putting themselves forward for selection for the Celtic Challenge teams.
The investment in the coaching teams and squads follows on from the recent establishment of three Player Development Centres at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Swansea University and Rygbi Gogledd Cymru, covering all of Wales. We’d like to acknowledge and formally recognise both Scarlets Rugby and Cardiff Metropolitan University for their support of Gwalia Lightning and Brython Thunder, with the teams based at Cardiff Met and Parc y Scarlets respectively.
The Head coaches and management teams for Gwalia Lightning and Brython Thunder and the 30-strong squads to represent Wales will be announced in due course.