Plans have been revealed for a new United Rugby Championship next season that It will feature 16 teams, based on an agreement between PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby, which will begin in September.
It includes South Africa’s four Super Rugby teams: Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls, which join the current PRO14 combinations Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Benetton and Zebre.
The biggest novelty of this tournament is that South African teams will qualify for the Champions Cup, i.e. for the first time, and subject to the termination of the terms of the contract with the European Professional Club Rugby, South African teams will be eligible to play in the European Cup from the 2022/23 season.
URC Executive Director Martin Anayi stated that the new league would “begin to reshape the world of club rugby”, while SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux described it as “a watershed moment in the history of South African rugby”.
The competition format comprises four regional groups out of four, with teams playing home and away in their group, plus one game against each of the other 12 teams.
The Top eight teams in a single zone after those 18 regular season games will enter a knockout phase, which will culminate in a Grand Final.
All the points earned during the URC season will contribute to the classification in the regional groups, and the highest ranked team in each of the four groups will earn a place in the Champions Cup for the following season.
The remaining four spots assigned to the Champions Cup will go to the four best-placed league teams that have not yet been classified through their regional groups.
“The fans have always asked our league for more, and now we are taking it to new heights,” Anayi said.
“Since the inception of the Celtic League in 2001, the vision has been to innovate and evolve to create compelling competition that challenges our players and teams to be at their best every week.
“Their potential has never been in doubt, and now we can give them the sand to be the best.
“The formation of 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 international play.
“The arrival of South Africa’s elite teams and the elimination of international match weekends will strengthen our league across the board.
“We now have a clear purpose and identity that everyone associated with our league can support.