The United Rugby Championship is a great name and it will be a great competition, which kills off the stigma that Pro 14 was in any way an inferior competition. The United Rugby Championship is something new and exciting, writes Mark Keohane. I love it already.
The Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions will make up four of the 16 teams and I like everything about the tournament structure. The league will be divided into four groups, with teams in those pools playing each other twice and then playing every other team once.
Everything about this structure is fair, including the travel. It is what separates it from the Super Rugby tournament, in which South Africa’s travel schedule was always more hectic than that of the Australian and New Zealand teams.
The top eight will be ranked according to points accumulated and this top eight will qualify for the play-offs, which also have the added incentive of playing in Europe’s Heineken Cup, but in the first year the South African quartet will have to make do with Europe’s second tier Challenge Cup.
It is understood that South Africa’s participation for the Heineken Cup, subject to them finishing in the top eight, will only be finalised for the 2023/24 season.
SA Rugby Magazine reports that the regular season of the United Rugby Championship will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising six home AND away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and 12 home OR away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league.
A full round of quarter-finals and semi-finals will take place to produce two teams who will qualify for the grand final.
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.
*A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify each season for the following season’s European 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 European Champions Cup from the 2022-23 season if they have finished in the United Rugby Championship qualification places from the prior season.