FIVE South African teams – including the Cheetahs, who did not play in the United Rugby Championship this season – will now play in the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup next season and beyond, after Europe’s three main professional leagues approved an expansion of the cross-border tournaments.
The DHL Stormers, the Vodacom Bulls and the Cell C Sharks will compete in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup after qualifying through their United Rugby Championship league placing, while the Emirates Lions and the Toyota Cheetahs – who now play in South Africa’s domestic Currie Cup competition – have been invited to participate in the 2022-23 EPCR Challenge Cup.
“The entry of the South African clubs to the URC has revitalised our league, created new rivalries and driven up the levels of competition,” said United Rugby Championship Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Martin Anayi.
“It is mouthwatering to see the DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks all involved in our play-offs and their presence is making a major impact on broadcast audiences and fan engagement. Adding the opportunity for these clubs, as well as for the Toyota Cheetahs, to compete in EPCR’s competitions will only strengthen what are two of the world’s elite club rugby competitions.”
Premiership Rugby Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Simon Massie-Taylor, added: “It is very exciting to have these five South African clubs joining EPCR’s tournaments. Their inclusion will take the competitions to a new level of intensity for the players and enjoyment for the fans.
“Our Premiership clubs are looking forward to playing against some of the best the southern hemisphere has to offer and matching up against players from South Africa’s Rugby World Cup 2019 winning side.
“It is a big step forward in expanding the reach of these unique and special tournaments, and bringing world-class, international club rugby to new audiences.”
League Nationale de Rugby Director General and EPCR Board member, Emmanuel Eschalier, said: “The arrival next season of the four South African clubs competing in the URC, as well as the Toyota Cheetahs, is a major development for EPCR’s competitions.
“The participation of these high-level clubs will strengthen the appeal and sporting intensity of the Heineken Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup with the potential for further development of these great competitions.”
The formats for next season’s Champions and Challenge Cups are to be announced shortly, in conjunction with details of the pool draws for both tournaments which will be staged towards the end of the month.