THE format of the new competition which will incorporate four South African franchises into the PRO14 has been revealed.
It will be called the United Rugby Championship and consist of a single 16-team league table, with every side playing two games (home and away) against the three other teams in their regional pool, and one game (home or away) against the other 12 sides in the competition, meaning 18 regular season games.
The top eight teams in the table at the end of the season will qualify for the play-offs which will consist of three rounds of knock-out rugby, with teams seeded on the basis of their final league position.
Scotland’s two pro teams (Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors) are in a regional pool alongside the two Italian sides (Benetton and Zebre). Based on previous performances in the PRO14, this should be regraded as a favourable draw.
- 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
A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify each season for the following season’s Heineken Champions Cup, with the rest of the teams going into the Challenge Cup.
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.
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.
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.
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This announcement is a significant step in creating a pathway for SA Rugby to become a full shareholder in Pro Rugby Championship (PRC DAC) alongside the Celtic and Italian unions.
“Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights,” said Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship. “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.”