A new era will kick off for South African rugby when the Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls join 12 Guinness PRO14 clubs for the United Rugby Championship, which will kick off in September 2021 in a brand new, world-class 16-team league format.
It also holds out the prospect of South Africa’s teams being eligible to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup from the 2022/23 season, subject to the finalisation of contract terms with European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), which owns the competition.
The United Rugby Championship will be bigger, bolder and stronger than its predecessors. Teams from five of rugby’s elite nations Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa will transform club rugby in a league of super clubs, which will embrace diversity and celebrate its athletes, as a league that can proudly represent its fans and cultures.
This game-changing agreement between SA Rugby and PRO14 Rugby will strengthen their existing partnership and will drive greater growth of the game for the benefit of all 16 teams in the league.
Crossing New Horizons in Rugby
This agreement will create a pathway for SA Rugby to become a full shareholder in Pro Rugby Championship alongside the Celtic and Italian unions. In a sporting landscape looking towards the post-pandemic future this unification of north and south provides everyone involved in the United Rugby Championship with optimism for prosperous days ahead.
This accord also paves the way for South African teams to compete in European tournaments with every team in the United Rugby Championship eligible to qualify for EPCR competitions.
The 18-round regular season in the United Rugby Championship will see the return of a single-standing table that will prevent clashes with International weekends and leave little margin for error for those chasing the title.
Every game will count in the league, and will be strengthened by an expanded knockout series that brings even more drama with a full schedule of quarter-finals and semi-finals capped off by a Grand Final played in a destination venue.
The United Rugby Championship will set the stage where the diversity of playing styles, languages and fan cultures will clash across iconic locations in rugby heartlands week after week. The new league will also allow South Africa’s former Super Rugby sides to operate in a common time zone, which will help open up greater audiences across the league and increase commercial appeal.
The URC will use one league table to rank the teams who will reach the knock-out stages and compete to reach the title and become the champions.
Fixtures: The regular season of the United Rugby Championship will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising of six (6) home AND away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and 12 home OR away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league.
Irish Pool: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster
Welsh Pool: Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys, Scarlets
South African Pool: Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls
Italian & Scottish Pool: Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre Rugby Club
Final Series/Play-Offs: One league table will be used to rank teams and after 18 rounds the top eight sides will qualify for the Play-Offs. Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding.
A full round of quarter-finals and semi-finals will take place to produce two teams who will qualify for the Grand Final.
United Rugby Championship European Qualification
A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify each season for the following season’s Heineken Champions Cup. The balance of teams will participate in the Challenge Cup.
Subject to the finalisation of contract terms with EPCR, South African teams will be eligible to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup from the 2022/23 season if they have finished in the United Rugby Championship qualification places from the prior season.
All points won during the URC season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools and the highest-ranking team in each of the four pools will earn a place in the Heineken Champions Cup for the following season. This addition to the format is expected to add even greater intensity to these age-old local rivalries.
The remaining four places in the Heineken Champions Cup will be awarded to the four highest-ranked teams from the single-standing league table who have not already qualified through the four regional pools.
Issued by SA Rugby Communications