As preparations continue for the final round of fixtures in the Magners League regular season, Celtic Rugby would like to clarify the rules relating to when the Round 18 matches have to be played.
The dates and kick-off times of four of the five matches have been set with the Scarlets hosting Glasgow Warriors at Parc y Scarlets on Friday, 7 May (kick-off 7.05pm) and Ulster entertaining Connacht at Ravenhill on the same day (kick-off 7.30pm).
On Sunday, 9 May, the following matches will kick-off simultaneously at 6.15pm: Cardiff Blues v Munster at the Cardiff City Stadium and Leinster v Edinburgh at RDS, Dublin.
The game between the Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons is currently pencilled in to be played at 7.05pm on Friday, 7 May, although is subject to change should Swansea City reach the Football League Coca-Cola Championship Play-Offs this weekend.
The Celtic Rugby rules regarding Round 18 fixtures states:
On the weekend of the last round of the League Matches, all of the final round League Matches that have or could have a bearing or impact on which Teams will finish in the top four places in the League and thereby qualify for the Play-Off Stage, or which Teams will qualify for participation in ERC’s Heineken Cup (or any replacement thereof), as shall be determined by Celtic Rugby in its sole discretion, will be required to be played on the same date and kick-off at the same time.
The League rules say that games must be played at the same time if they involve teams getting into the top four. But they don’t specifically relate to teams getting into the top two. There’s not a requirement for simultaneous scheduling to determine the order of the top four teams.
Coming into Round 18 there are three teams who have already booked their places in the Magners League Play-Offs – Leinster, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors. The fourth and final place is open to one of either Munster, Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh.
Against that background, and needing to comply with our commercial obligations to the Welsh broadcasters, S4C and BBC Wales, to deliver at least two fixtures per weekend, it was decided to place the two fixtures that involve the three teams fighting it out for the final place at the same time on the same day – 6.15pm on Sunday, 9 May.
The matches between Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons have a bearing on which teams will win the two home semi-finals in the Play-Offs. That is why they are both scheduled to be played at the same time on Friday, 7 May.
In Wales, our broadcast partners S4C had first pick of the matches and chose to cover the game at Cardiff City Stadium. BBC Wales opted for the Welsh derby between the Ospreys and Dragons, asking for it to be played in their regular slot of 7.05pm on Friday night.
However, because the Ospreys do not have primacy of contract at their home venue of the Liberty Stadium, there is a possibility that Swansea City might be playing there on Saturday, 8 May in the first-leg of the Coca-Cola Championship Play-Off. If that happens, then the Ospreys’ game will have to be re-scheduled for Sunday, 9 May.
There are three teams in the Magners League who ground-share with football clubs and, therefore, do not have first call on their venues – Cardiff Blues, Glasgow Warriors and the Ospreys. While the board of Celtic Rugby, which contains a member representing the four Regions in Wales, and our broadcast partners have been aware of the potential for fixture clashes on the final weekend of regular league matches, we have done all we can to meet our obligations to all stakeholders within our own regulations.
The fact of the matter is that until Swansea City complete their league programme on Saturday afternoon we will not know if the Liberty Stadium will be available to the Ospreys on Friday, 7 May.
What this season has taught us is that perhaps we need to make contingency plans for the future that could include any team which does not have first call on their venue either having to play away from home in Round 18 or having to nominate a second ‘home’ venue to which any game caught up in fixture complications would have to be moved.
This will obviously have to be discussed by the Celtic Rugby board ahead of next season.
There have been regular meetings between the Welsh broadcasters, the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales throughout the season and the specific issue of Round 18 fixtures was raised and widely debated in January and February, as well as with RRW chief executive Stuart Gallacher no less then three weeks ago.
While BBC Wales has expressed a wish to televise the Welsh derby between the Ospreys and Dragons on Friday, 7 May, they have stopped short of demanding the fixture be played at 7.05pm on that day should the Liberty Stadium not be available to the Ospreys. In that case, they will televise the game at Parc y Scarlets.
The Magners League has enjoyed a fantastic season to date and there is huge anticipation across all three participating nations ahead of the final round of regular league fixtures.
Celtic Rugby hopes that any inconvenience to Ospreys and Dragons fans caused by the potential non-availability of the Ospreys’ home venue on Friday, 7 May does not devalue what has all the makings of another wonderful Welsh derby clash on the final weekend.