Tournament organisers have confirmed that the new 16-team PRO rugby competition will be called the United Rugby Championship.
South African clubs the Sharks, Stormers, Lions, and Bulls will enter the league next season alongside the teams who competed in last year’s Guinness PRO14.
It will see the return of a single-standing table with quarter-finals, semi-finals, and a grand final at the end of the regular campaign.
Under the agreement, the South African sides will be eligible to qualify for European competitions.
Here’s how the league will work:
The United Rugby Championship will kick off in September 2021 as the top clubs from South Africa (Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls) combine with the Guinness PRO14 to create a world-class 16-team league.
The United Rugby Championship will be bigger, bolder, and stronger than its predecessors.
Teams from five of rugby’s elite nations – Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa will transform the competition into a league of super clubs, which will embrace difference and champion its athletes on their journey with the URC proudly representing all of those involved with the game.
Crossing New Horizons in Rugby
This agreement will create a pathway for SA Rugby to become a full shareholder in Pro Rugby Championship (PRC DAC) alongside the Celtic and Italian unions. In a sporting landscape looking towards the post-pandemic future this unification of north and south provides everyone involved in the United Rugby Championship with optimism for prosperous days ahead.
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.
The United Rugby Championship will set the stage where the diversity of playing styles, languages and fan cultures will clash across iconic locations in rugby heartlands week after week. The new league will also allow South Africa’s former Super Rugby sides to operate in a common time zone which will help open up greater audiences across the league and increase commercial appeal.
United Rugby Championship League Format
The URC will use one league table to rank the teams who will reach the knock-out stages and compete to reach the title and become the champions.
Fixtures: The regular season of the United Rugby Championship will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising of six (6) Home AND away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and 12 Home OR away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league
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
Final Series/Play-Offs: One league table will be used to rank teams and after 18 rounds the top eight sides will qualify for the play-offs. Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding.
A full round of quarter-finals and semi-finals will take place to produce two teams who will qualify for the Grand Final.
United Rugby Championship – Champions Cup and Challenge Cup Participation
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 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 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.