PRO14 becomes United Rugby Championship with South African sides eligible for Champions Cup
The maligned PRO14 has given itself a makeover with the arrival of the frontline South African franchises into the mix for next season. With the Cheetahs and the Kings not playing in the tournament since March 2020, the Sharks, the Bulls, the Lions and the Stormers will enter the 2021/22 season with the competition rebranded as the United Rugby Championship.
With the old Guinness PRO14 viewed as massively inferior to the Gallagher Premiership and Top 14, and with appetites certainly not whetted by the gimmicky Rainbow Cup, officials will hope their rebrand will be the start of something seen as a more credible tournament by fans.
“The United Rugby Championship will be bigger, bolder and stronger than its predecessors,” read a launch statement confirming the end of the PRO14. “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.”
Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship who was in charge of the PRO14, said: “Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights. The United Rugby Championship will see World Cup winners, icons of the Guinness Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and stars of the British and Irish Lions tour turning up the intensity in an exciting new league format.
“Since the origins of the Celtic League in 2001, the vision has been to innovate and evolve in order to create a compelling competition which would challenge our players and teams to be at their very best every single week. Their potential has never been in doubt and now we can provide them with the arena to be the very best.
This is the United Rugby Championship ?
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) June 15, 2021
“Forming 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 the international game.”
One league table will be used to rank teams and after 18 rounds the top eight sides will qualify for the quarter-finals with teams seeded from one to four receiving a home tie. The URC will use one league table to rank the teams who will reach the knockout stages and compete to reach the title and become the champions. The regular season will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising of six home and away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and twelve home or away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league.
The regional pools are: Irish pool – Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster; Welsh pool – Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets; South African pool: Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls; and Italian/Scottish pool: Benetton, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre.
A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify each season for the following season’s Heineken Champions Cup, with the balance of teams participating 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 Heineken 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 Heineken 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.
Fans hoping for a full-on final in Italy on June 19 have had their hopes dashed https://t.co/B33Vvp6P2X
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 5, 2021
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