Discarded Cheetahs' European dreams dashed
The Cheetahs’ aspiration of returning to Europe has come to an abrupt end. Following their exclusion from the European-based PRO14 (now the United Rugby Championship) by SA Rugby in 2020, Cheetahs were hopeful that they can get entry into the European Challange Cup.
In August Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie told rugby365.com that the side’s spot in the Challange Cup is pending. The ‘provisional’ fixtures had the Cheetahs down to play French giants Toulon and the Newport-based Welsh franchise the Dragons on December 11 and 18.
However, with EPCR confirming the fixtures on Thursday, the South African side are clearly absent despite the modification to the competition.
Last year Cheetahs MD Harold Verster told RugbyPass that he felt they had been thrown under the bus by SA Rugby.
“When we joined the PRO14, SARU said they appreciated our solution to being left out of Super Rugby, they called it an ‘elegant settlement’ and said in their report that it would be wonderful for South African rugby. Now they are throwing us out of the bus. It is so unfair. It is really, really frustrating. We are very unhappy with our situation.”
With the PRO14/URC gone by the wayside, having the door closed on the European Challenge Cup is less than ideal for the franchise who finished fourth out of seven in the 2019/20 PRO14 Conference A table.
The Challenge Cup is scheduled to get underway on December 11.
A modified Challenge Cup format will see 15 clubs competing in three pools over five pool stage rounds with Saracens marking their return to European competition with a Round 1 match in Pool C against Edinburgh Rugby at the StoneX Stadium on Saturday, December 11.
The 2012 winners, Biarritz Olympique, are also back in Europe after an absence of seven years and their opening Pool A tie on Saturday, December 11 sees them up against Zebre Rugby Club at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi while three-time finalists, RC Toulon, start out in Round 2 at Stade Félix Mayol also against Zebre on Friday, December 17.
Clubs will only play against opponents from their own pool, and one club in each pool will have a bye during each round. The exact dates and kick-off times for the Round 5 fixtures on 8/9/10 April 2022 will be announced later in the season.
The three highest-ranked clubs from each pool, and the highest-ranked fourth-placed club, as well as six Heineken Champions Cup clubs, will qualify for the Round of 16 which will be played on the weekend of 15/16/17 April 2022, followed by quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the final at the Stade Vélodrome, Marseille on 27 May 2022.
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