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Where it all began

Guinness PRO12 Editor

20 Aug 2010


This time nine years ago, the first-ever Celtic League match was just coming to an end.

At 7.15pm on Friday, August 17, Bridgend had kicked off the inaugural Celtic competition at home to Welsh rivals Pontypridd.

Ponty’s Richard Johnston scored the first Celtic League try with 10 minutes played at the Brewery Field and it was the visitors who came out on top, winning 27-19.

The match featured five players who still ply their trade in the Magners League, with Cardiff Blues flanker Ma’ama Molitika starting for Bridgend, while Ospreys duo Sonny Parker and Mefin Davies and Blues stars Ceri Sweeney and Gethin Jenkins were part of the Pontypridd XV.

Just 15 minutes later, Munster were kicking off in Edinburgh as the competition experienced its opening cross-border fixture.

Whereas this season’s game between those two sides will take place at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish Rugby, the 2001 encounter was held at Myreside, the home of Watsonians.

The 5,410 people who turned up to watch history in the making were treated to a great spectacle, with Munster claiming a nail-biting 25-22 victory thanks to four-point tries from Jason Holland and David Wallace and 17 points from the boot of Jeremy Staunton.

Wallace was just one of a remarkable eight Munster players involved that night who are set to turn out in the Magners League in 2010 and 2011.

Fellow forwards John Hayes, Mick O’Driscoll and Alan Quinlan all started the match, as did scrum-half Peter Stringer, while Marcus Horan, Donncha O’Callaghan and current skipper Paul O’Connell all came on as replacements.

Veteran internationals Chris Paterson and Allan Jacobsen featured from the start for Edinburgh and both are likely to do the same when Rob Moffat’s men face travel to Cardiff Blues for this season’s Magners League opener in a fortnight’s time.

To view the lineups and match details from those two games, please click here and then click on the respective scores on the fixtures page.

Those matches were the first under a Celtic Rugby banner that has since evolved into one of the globe’s most competitive tournaments and will this year stretch even further than the three Celtic nations by including Italian entrants Aironi Rugby and Benetton Treviso.

Back in 2001, the league consisted of 15 teams – nine from Wales, four from Ireland and two from Scotland.

The format involved two pools – one of seven and one of eight – with the teams playing the others in their respective pools just once.

The top four from each pool then met in the quarter-finals, with Ulster, Neath, Leinster, Newport, Connacht, Glasgow, Munster and Llanelli making it through to the knockout stages.

The semi-finals were almost an all-Irish affair, with only a five-point win for Glasgow over Connacht splitting the four Irish regions.

Leinster and Munster both made it through from their respective semis: Leinster beating Glasgow and Munster seeing off Ulster, with both games being held at Lansdowne Road. 

The two powerhouses then met in a one-off final to decide the champions and it was Leinster who drew first blood in a battle that has been one of the fiercest of the Magners League calendar ever since.

Brian O’Driscoll and co ran out 24-20 winners in front of 30,000 people in a superb encounter in Dublin as they became the first-ever Celtic Champions.