Tournament organisers have this morning announced details of the ‘United Rugby Championship' which will kick off in September 2021.
The new competition will combine the top clubs from South Africa (Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls) with the Guinness PRO14 to create a world-class 16-team league.
Officials also confirmed that the South African sides will be able to qualify for the European competition from next season onwards “subject to the finalisation of contract terms with EPCR.”
Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship, said: “Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights. 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.”
Subject to contract, all teams in the United Rugby Championship will be eligible to qualify for EPCR competitions in time for the 2022/23 season.
In comparison to the Guinness PRO14 structure, 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 which will be further strengthened by an expanded knock-out series that aims to deliver more jeopardy with a full schedule of quarter-finals and semi-finals capped off by a Grand Final played in a destination venue.
Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup 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.