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EPCR statement: Cheetahs included as 5 SA clubs get European entry

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Five South African teams – including the Cheetahs – will participate in next season’s European tournaments after organisers EPCR confirmed a landmark expansion for the 2022/23 campaign and beyond for its Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions.

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An EPCR statement read: “The Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Lions, who have qualified from the United Rugby Championship (URC), will add a new layer of high-quality competition to the established order of Europe’s elite clubs. In addition to the four qualifiers from the URC, the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs have been invited to participate in the 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup.

“As well as Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Edinburgh and the Ospreys, the Cape Town-based Stormers, the Bulls from Pretoria and the Durban-based Sharks will compete in next season’s Champions Cup following impressive campaigns in the URC, while the Lions from Johannesburg and the Cheetahs will fly the flag for South Africa in the Challenge Cup. 

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“The South African clubs in the Champions Cup will be in the mix against newly-crowned winners Stade Rochelais, who lifted the trophy for the first time in dramatic style in Marseille last weekend, as well as Lyon who also claimed a historic first European title when they won the Challenge Cup final.

“The formats for next season’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will be announced shortly, in conjunction with details of the pool draws for both tournaments which will be staged towards the end of the month.”

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The Cheetahs had been one of the two pioneering South African franchises (along with Southern Kings) who left Super Rugby in 2017 to join the PRO14, but they were excluded when that tournament was revamped in 2021/22 as the URC with the Bulls, the Sharks, the Stormers and the Lions involved. SARU chief executive Jurie Roux added: “Our five franchise teams will now play in two new territories against opponents we have never played before. We have already experienced the intensity of the URC and now we will also face the top clubs from England and France. 

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A big word of thanks to the Cheetahs for their patience. I’m sure they can’t wait to face international opposition again and we are very grateful to have them included in the Challenge Cup. Ever since we have made the decision to align with the northern hemisphere, our aim was to play in the EPCR competitions. As we have seen during the inaugural season of the URC, the rugby is of the highest standard and our top players definitely benefited from this move. 

“We now have an opportunity to also start rubbing shoulders with the top clubs from England and France in two other competitions that have caught the imagination of rugby supporters around the globe for more than two decades.”

EPCR chairman Dominic McKay added: “The steps we have taken with our stakeholder leagues and with SARU ensure that we can further develop the tournaments as the pinnacle of global club rugby.

“This is a crucial step forward in bringing to life our vision of growing the game and our own tournaments, continuing to deliver strong returns for our leagues and creating an ever-higher standard of mouthwatering matches for our fans.”

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EPCR CEO Anthony Lepage said: “This is a hugely significant step forward in realising our ambitions to grow our tournaments and bring our outstanding competitions to new audiences across the globe… It will be superb to raise the bar even higher with matches next season featuring South African Rugby World Cup winners, in addition to the stars of Europe we already see lighting up the pitch.”

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