A new era will kick off for South African rugby in September when the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls join 12 Pro14 clubs in the United Rugby Championship.
It also holds out the prospect of South Africa’s teams being eligible to qualify for the Champions Cup from the 2022/23 season, subject to the finalisation of contract terms with European Professional Club Rugby, which owns the competition.
“The United Rugby Championship will be bigger, bolder and stronger than its predecessors,” SA Rugby said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Teams from five of rugby’s elite nations – Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa – will transform club rugby in a league of super clubs, which will embrace diversity and celebrate its athletes, as a league that can proudly represent its fans and cultures.”
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 the league will feature an expanded knock-out series with a full schedule of quarter-finals and semifinals capped off by a grand final.
Each team’s fixtures will comprise of six home and away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and 12 home or away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league.
“Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights,” said Martin Anayi, CEO of the new league.
“The United Rugby Championship will see World Cup winners, icons of the Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and stars of the British & Irish Lions tour turning up the intensity in an exciting new league format.”
Having cut ties with Australasian teams in the Super Rugby competition, and playing derby matches in the recent Rainbow Cup SA competition, SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux was delighted with the opportunity for local sides.
“Our teams will be pitting themselves against the leading clubs from four nations, steeped in rugby tradition and folklore,” Roux said.
“They’ll do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatise while 100 percent of matches will kick off in South African prime time.
“This is a watershed moment in South African rugby history, opening new doors and heralding a new and exciting era for our sport.”
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