SA teams set to face European counterparts in new event named United Rugby Championship

Vincent Tshituka and Wandisile Simelane of the Lions celebrate after the match.
Vincent Tshituka and Wandisile Simelane of the Lions celebrate after the match.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi

SA Rugby revealed on Tuesday that the Sharks‚ the Stormers‚ the Lions and the Bulls will join 12 Guinness PRO14 clubs in a new tournament named the new United Rugby Championship.

The new competition was unveiled on Tuesday and will kick off in September 2021.

The world-class 16-team league also offers the possibility of South Africa’s teams being eligible for the Heineken Champions Cup from the 2022/23 season subject to the finalisation of contract terms with European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR).

The United Rugby Championship will be bigger with teams from five of rugby’s elite nations - Ireland‚ Italy‚ Scotland‚ Wales and South Africa - and will embrace diversity and celebrate its athletes.

“Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights‚” said chief executive of United Rugby Championship Martin Anayi.

“The United Rugby Championship will see World Cup winners‚ icons of the Guinness Six Nations‚ the Rugby Championship and stars of the British & Irish Lions tour turning up the intensity in an exciting new league format.

“Since the origins of the Celtic League in 2001‚ the vision has been to innovate and evolve in order to create a compelling competition which would challenge our players and teams to be at their very best every single week. Their potential has never been in doubt and now we can provide them with the arena to be the very best.

“Forming the United Rugby Championship will begin to reshape the world of club rugby. We are creating a league that embraces and celebrates difference and where the only way to succeed will be to match the skill and intensity of the international game.

“The arrival of South Africa’s elite teams and the removal of fixtures from international match weekends will make our league stronger across the board. We will see heroes taking on heroes every week in iconic locations to create an appeal that will be unmatched in in the world of club rugby.

“We now have a clear purpose and identity that everyone associated with our league can stand behind. We have listened and we have answered the challenge set by our clubs to take this competition to the next level both on and off the field. North and south will now collide on a regular basis and we cannot wait to see who will rise up as the first champions of the United Rugby Championship.”

Jurie Roux‚ CEO of SA Rugby‚ said: “South African rugby has for many years imagined a future aligned with Northern Hemisphere rugby and this announcement marks the arrival of that vision.

“Our teams will be pitting themselves against the leading clubs from four nations‚ steeped in rugby tradition and folklore. They’ll do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatise while 100 per cent of matches will kick off in South African prime time.

“This is a watershed moment in South African rugby history‚ opening new doors and heralding a new and exciting era for our sport.”

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.

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.

For the 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.

Regional pools

Irish Pool: Connacht‚ Leinster‚ Munster‚ Ulster

Welsh Pool: Dragons‚ Cardiff Rugby‚ Ospreys‚ Scarlets

South African Pool: Sharks‚ Stormers‚ Lions and Bulls

Italian & Scottish Pool: Benetton Rugby‚ Edinburgh‚ Glasgow Warriors‚ Zebre Rugby Club