Ireland Schoolboy Rugby Explained
The school year is September through to end of May. The rugby season is played September through to end of March/Mid April. The competition structure is based provincially. Every school based in a province (Ulster, Munster, Leinster & Connacht) play in that province's union's competition.
There are 2 premier age grades U16 & U19. These are the age grades where the above competitions take place. There are provincially based competitions for below 1st/A grade above all the way down as far as a school can field. Blackrock College is particularly big and would have an 8th XV at U19 level playing in the lowest competition the East Coast League.
The Age Grades are based on calendar years. So for the 2017/2018 competition players can turn 19 on the 1st Jan 2018. This is rare in the extreme and most players will not turn 19 until they have left school after June. The age grades changed approx 8 years ago to get in line with World Rugby/IRB age grades.
The end of January see's the playoffs start where in Leinster, for instance, the final 16 play out on live television, culminating in a provincial final at the province professional team's home ground on March 17 (St Patrick's Day).
6 of the final 16 prequalify for these playoffs and play no competitive fixture until the playoffs. These playoffs are not seeded and can see two of the pre-qualifiers clash 1st round where one will go out & as such only have one competitive game that season. While the pre-qualifiers wait for the playoffs they play challenge matches against the other pre-qualifiers from all over the whole country (not just their own province) & in many cases against international opposition. In some cases challenge matches will also take place against teams that are trying to qualify for the last 16 depending on their schedule.
The top 6 are so strong that only once in the last 30 years has a team outside of this 6 won the competition in Leinster.
The other 10 teams come from a qualification system that has two elements, a league that has two divisions. The top 4 in each division make another 8 of these places. The league also has a grand final but this doesn't have any relevance to main competition playoffs, that incorporate the prequalifiers. The last 2 places are assigned to teams qualifying from a leadin knockout competition. Teams that are in the league that did not qualify for the main competition from it are automatically assigned places in this competition for a 2nd attempt to qualify. Other teams will have qualified for this tournament through a number of different knockout tournaments that started in September.
Munster have 9 pre-qualifiers for 10 team playoff tournament in the same time frame. The last place is assigned to a school from a qualifying competition. The format is slightly different in that the 5 winners go through to next round + one randomly selected loser. The other 4 losing teams will play one qualifying game each. The winners of these games are re-entered to make a top 8 and goes on from there to a final culminating on St Patrick's Day in the province pro team's home ground.
There pre Christmas schedule will mimic that of Leinster with national and international challenge matches.
Ulster has a seeded competition where the main competitors don't enter until round 3 and are kept apart and go on from there to a final culminating on St Patrick's Day in the province pro team's home ground.
Connacht is very small and has a league based system of 8 schools that compete for the main competition. The top 2 on each side of the league go forward to semi-finals & bottom into the plate.
In all provinces there also development cups/leagues for school's that have no interest in the main competition. Some of these schools may have only one team and a passing interest in the sport.
After these competitions are complete the underage international coaches will select an Irish Schools A & B teams. The Irish Schools A-Team currently plays in a 6 Nations festival in Wales over the Easter School Break. The Ireland Schools B-Team seems to have a different makeshift schedule every year. Ireland Schools is U18 so some players are not eligible. There is also an Ireland U19 team which mixes in schools players with university and club players that are U19.
Provincial underages squads for following season are picked during this time based on the competitions that have been played. Some players who are on a school's 2nd XV may be selected if deemed strong enough. These age grades are again U18, U19 & U20 (U20 would be for U19 players that are leaving school). These teams will assemble in July and play until midseptember before going back to their school's sides.