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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Swansea and Ulster on Celtic collision
Celtic combination: The Irish,Welsh and Scottish Rugby Unions
Welsh-Scottish League champions Swansea have been drawn with Irish powerhouses Ulster in their side of the new Celtic League tournament.

Swansea are packed with internationals and can boast four current Lions - Colin Charvis, Mark Taylor, Darren Morris and late call-up Scott Gibbs - in their squad.

However, Ulster won the European Cup in 1999 and have veteran Ireland outside-half David Humphreys as their lynchpin.

The province can also boast a vastly experienced pack as well as Lions wing Tyrone Howe on one flank and flyer James Topping on the other.

Ulster get an early chance to stamp their dominance on the pool as they host Swansea at Ravenhill on the opening weekend. Sides play each other just once in the pool stage, so Ulster do not have to travel to St Helen's.

  Pool A
Bridgend
Ebbw Vale
Glasgow
Leinster
Llanelli
Pontypridd
Swansea
Ulster
The Celtic League will consist of 15 teams this season, split into two pools, and will kick off on Friday 17 August.

On paper, Swansea and Ulster look to be the two strongest sides in their half but Llanelli will have something to say about that, having two Lions of their own, Scott Quinnell and Robin McBryde, in the pack.

Llanelli also have a good record against Ulster, having beaten them twice in the 2000 Heineken Cup.

The Scarlets might have had three Lions tourists but centre/wing Dafydd James moved to Bridgend during the summer and his new club will also be pushing hard.

Leinster - with their two Lions Brian O'Driscoll and Malcolm O'Kelly - Glasgow Rugby, Pontypridd, and Ebbw Vale complete the sides in their eight-team conference.

The opening round of matches sees two all-Welsh affairs, with Bridgend hosting Pontypridd and Ebbw Vale travelling to Llanelli, while Glasgow must cross the Irish Sea to face Leinster.

Revenge

In the other seven-team conference, Irish Inter-Provincial champions Munster will face stiff opposition from Cardiff, who were runners-up to Swansea in last season's Welsh-Scottish League.

The matches between the two sides will be another contest of Lions as the Irish can boast Ronan O'Gara and David Wallace, while Cardiff have the half-back pairing of Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins, plus Dai Young and Martyn Williams.

Newport, the Principality Cup holders, will also figure strongly, especially as they have secured the services of Springbok scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen for next season.

Van der Westhuizen may miss the early rounds as he is not expected to arrive at Rodney Parade until the beginning of September.

  Pool B
Caerphilly
Cardiff
Connacht
Edinburgh
Munster
Neath
Newport
Munster and Newport will be familiar with the other's play as they were drawn in the same pool of the Heineken Cup last season, but the Black and Ambers will want revenge on Munster for defeats home and away.

The weakest of the Irish provincial sides, Connacht, plus Caerphilly, Neath, and Edinburgh Rugby fill out the smaller pool.

The competition's play-off stages will be played before Christmas, with the top four from each pool advancing, with the final being held on 15 December.

The new Celtic League is set to run for at least three years.

Links to more Wales stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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