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URC chief delivers the latest blow in Cheetahs' fight for survival

By Chris Jones
(Photo by Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images)

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United Rugby Championship CEO Martin Anayi has dismissed talks of a possible B division for the new URC competition that would offer the Cheetahs franchise in South Africa more exposure. Hawies Fourie, the Cheetahs coach, had suggested after their recent Currie Cup win over Western Province that they were hopeful of competing in a second division URC event.

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However, Anayi has knocked back the idea during a midweek virtual media briefing with reporters. “It’s not on the cards,” said Anayi. “We have a real job on our hands… to make the URC as good as it can possibly be and we are getting there. So, not for the present.”

The Cheetahs contested the old PRO14 between 2017 and 2020 and have seen a continued drain of their best players since missing out on inclusion in the URC. They and the Southern Kings were cut from the roster to accommodate the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers after the South African decide to quit Super Rugby. 

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Anayi, though, is aware of the problems. He added: “We do love the Cheetahs, by the way. They are a big part of our history and if we can help them in any way to find a competition that does work for them, you can rest assured that we would do that. But there are no plans for the URC second division at the moment.”

The existing URC format has a 16-team league table but the four regional pools determine European qualification. The highest-ranked team in each pool – Irish, Scottish/Italian, Welsh and South African – earns a Heineken Champions Cup place for the following season with the remaining four URC berths going to the next four highest-placed overall league teams not already qualified.

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Anayi remains in favour of retaining a geographical spread for Champions Cup qualification rather than a strict top-eight meritocratic system. The impact of the pandemic on the new tournament has been significant but he remains optimistic about the future with a two-year review of the competition due at the end of next season. 

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He added: “We took a huge hit cost-wise but we will still be more profitable than last year and that goes back to the clubs despite that experience. I’m really looking forward to a non-covid season but we just roll with punches and try to be as resilient as possible.”

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