South African teams eligible for Champions Cup under revamped Pro14

United Rugby Championship will see the Pro14 combined with four SA teams

The United Rugby Championship will begin in September. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Impho

The United Rugby Championship will begin in September. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Impho

 

Pro14 Rugby have unveiled the format for next season’s expanded tournament, to include the four South African teams, and have renamed the 16-team competition the United Rugby Championship.

In a complicated format, the 16 teams will be divided into four regional pools of four teams each, whereby the Irish provinces will play each other home and away, and ditto those in Wales and South Africa, with the two Italians and Scottish sides also grouped together.

In addition to those six ‘derbies’, each team will then play the other 12 sides once apiece, six at home and six away, with a final league table ranked from one to 16 after 18 matches. The top eight sides will be seeded one to eight with the four highest-ranked teams having home advantage for the quarter-finals. That seeding will also determine who plays at home in the semi-finals.

Significantly, each pool winner will qualify for the 2022-23 Heineken Champions Cup, followed by the next four highest ranked teams in the main league table. The four South African sides will be able to qualify for the 2022/23 Champions Cup.

Hence, the eight teams who reach the playoffs will not necessarily be the same eight sides who qualify for the Champions Cup, given a pool winner could conceivably finish outside the top eight in the main league table.

This format does guarantee one Champions Cup qualifier from each of the pools, ie one Irish, one Welsh, one South African and one Italian/Scottish team.

At a stroke it’s clear that it will become far more difficult for all four Irish sides to qualify and the provinces, particularly Connacht, will feel they are disadvantaged by having to play six derbies.

According to today’s release: “Four regional pool tables will determine the six Home and Away fixtures played by each team in their territory. The remaining 12 games will be made from an even number of Home or Away games against the other teams in the league. Regional pools were designed to amplify rivalries and competitiveness among nations.

“All points won during the URC season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools and the winner of each pool will earn a place in the Champions Cup for the following season. This addition to the format is expected to add even greater intensity to these age-old rivalries.

“The remaining four places will then be awarded to the four highest-ranked teams in the single-standing league table who did not win their regional pool. Final seeding for the Champions Cup will be based upon the league positions of all eight teams.”

The URC is scheduled to start on the weekend of September 24th/25th/26th and the number of regular season games are to be reduced from 21 to 18, meaning no crossover with international weekends, followed by three rounds of knockouts including the grand final to provide an overall total of 21 game weekends per season. This is down from a total of 24 when the tournament was previously a 12-team league.

The organisers intend to maintain this format for at least five seasons, which will allow them to alternate the home-or-away fixtures from season to season akin to the Six Nations. In other words, were Leinster to play the Bulls at home next season, they would be away to them the following season.

The European teams will play two matches per season in South Africa, and ideally back-to-back. The South African sides will play six away games in the Northern Hemisphere and these will most likely require three-game tours.

European teams travelling to South Africa will have a seven-day turnaround leading into those games, including five ‘clean days’ that don’t involve any travel.

Explaining the latest rebranding of the tournament from Guinness Pro14, the release stated: “Over 140 names were tested - including PRO16 and PRO Rugby Championship - but ultimately United Rugby Championship rose to the top based upon feedback from stakeholders across a number of internal and external surveys which have shaped the brand values and expectations from teams, fans, media and broadcasters.

“At its core, the URC seeks to be Bigger, Bolder and Stronger than the previous incarnations of the league with a more familiar format, no crossovers with international weekends and more teams capable of winning the title.

URC regional pools

Ireland: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster

Wales: Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys, Scarlets

South Africa: Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls

Italy & Scotland: Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre Rugby Club

Fixture Dates for 2021/22 season

R1: Weekend 24/25/26 September

R2: 1/2/3 October

R3: 8/9/10 October

R4: 15/16/17 October

R5: 22/23/24 October

R6: 29/30/31 October

R7: 3/4/5 December

R8: 24/25/26 December

R9: 31 December 1/2 January

R10: 7/8/9 January

R11: 28/29/30 January

R12: 18/19/20 January

R13: 4/5/6 March

R14: 25/26/27 March

R15: 1/2/3 April

R16: 22/23/24 April

R17: 29/20/21 April

R18: 20/21/22 May

URC Quarter Finals: 3/4/5 June

URC Semi-Finals 10/11/12 June

URC Final: 23/24/25 June

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