Irish rugby union system
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The top level of competition in the Irish rugby union system is the Pro12 (currently known for sponsorship purposes as the RaboDirect Pro12), a league of professional teams originally from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that expanded to include two Italian teams in the 2010–11 season. Ireland currently has four entries in the RaboDirect Pro12.
The league now known as the RaboDirect Pro12 was created in 2001 as the Celtic League with 15 teams from the Celtic nations—the four Irish provinces, teams from both of Scotland's largest cities, and all nine teams from the Welsh Premier Division. After the first season, a third Scottish team, representing the Borders region, joined. The league saw radical change for the 2003–04 season, as the Welsh Rugby Union adopted a controversial plan to regionalise the country's professional rugby setup. The existing professional clubs were reorganised into five regional sides and the Welsh Premier Division was demoted to a developmental league. One of the original Welsh regional teams was folded after that season, resulting in an 11-team league.
In 2006, the competition became the Magners League via a sponsorship deal with Irish cider maker Magners. After the 2006–07 season, the Scottish Rugby Union folded the Borders side for financial reasons, leaving the league with 10 members. The league expanded to include two Italian super-regional franchises starting with the 2010–11 season, which proved to be the last under Magners sponsorship. The league found a new sponsor in RaboDirect, the Irish subsidiary of Dutch financial services company Rabobank.
Since its inception, the Celtic League/Pro12 has been a closed league with no promotion or relegation. Under current rules, the three Irish teams that finish highest in the league receive berths in the following season's Heineken Cup, with the remaining provincial side taking part in the European Challenge Cup. Starting with the 2009–10 season, the winners of both European cups have earned berths in the following season's Heineken Cup separately from their countries' normal allocations. From the inception of the Celtic League through the 2010–11 season, the three traditional provincial powers of Leinster, Munster and Ulster claimed all of Ireland's Heineken Cup places, leaving Connacht to carry the counrry's banner in the Challenge Cup. In 2011–12, all four of Ireland's provinces competed in the Heineken Cup; Leinster's victory in the 2011 Heineken Cup Final gave Ireland a fourth Heineken Cup berth, which passed to Connacht as Leinster were already qualified via the Celtic League.
All Ireland League
The main domestic league in Ireland is the All Ireland League. This was started in 1990 and has now expanded to three divisions with a total of 48 senior clubs.
In each division the club finishing on top after the league series will receive a Union plaque but is not deemed the champion club of that division. Champions of each division are decided on a play-off of the top four clubs. First plays fourth & second plays third. The winners then meet in a final.
The bottom two clubs in division one are relegated to division two; they are replaced by the top two clubs from division two. Similarly, the bottom two from division two are replaced by the top two from AIB Division Three. The team finishing last in division three are relegated and replaced by the winner of the round robin competition between the winners of the Connacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster provincial Leagues.
There are four provincial leagues based on the historic provinces of Connacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster. The winners of each provincial league play a round robin competition with the winner being promoted to the AIB Division Three.
The provincial leagues include the following Senior club sides: