The United Rugby Championship has been revealed, replacing the PRO14 and including four former Super Rugby teams from South Africa.
This new competition is the realization of long-brewing plans to include the South African teams in European rugby after their fallout with Super Rugby. It should be noted though that the competition has yet to be approved by World Rugby.
United Rugby Championship makes sense
The new competition will take time to bed in. A few tweaks may be necessary, but the model does make sense for all participating parties. It is certain to attract a lot of attention and will be a true North vs South competition. New teams will be on display in all countries, international sponsors gain a further reach with their spend and the time zone challenge of Super Rugby is a thing of the past. It is rumoured that revenue from broadcast rights has doubled to 55 million Pounds. With more cash available in the primary competition and more on offer in Europe, it gives the South African teams more of an opportunity to retain their own marquee players. The balance to this though would be the additional cost of ensuring they have enough strength in depth in their squads.
Ryan Jordan details the structure of the new competition and the possible participation of the South African teams in both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.
Structure of the United Rugby Championship
The competing teams in the United Rugby Championship will be grouped into four regional pools, as follows:
Irish Pool: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster
Italian & Scottish Pool: Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre Rugby Club
South African Pool: Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions, Vodacom Bulls
Welsh Pool: Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys, Scarlets
This is the United Rugby Championship 🏉
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) June 15, 2021
An improvement on the Super 18 format
There will be a lot of excitement about playing new teams at new destinations. There is a definite improvement over the failed and confusing Super 18 tournament format. Each team will play home and away fixtures against the teams in their own regional pool. They will also play a single round against all the other teams in the United Rugby Championship, on a home or away basis. This simply means that every team faces every other team and there is no discussion to be had that one team qualified for the playoffs without facing one or two of the stronger teams in the tournament.
There will be a single league table and the top eight teams will play knockout rounds of Quarter and Semi-Finals, culminating in the final. None of the detested guaranteed qualifications for pool winners and wild-card qualifiers.
Champions Cup and Challenge Cup qualification
Qualifying for these two competitions is already a reality for the current PRO14 teams as well as those from the English Premiership and France’s Top 14. Although still subject to finalizing contract terms, the South African teams and their fans will be very interested in the prospect of competing in the top-tier European competitions. Aside from this being a new challenge, the financial reward for successful teams would be significant. Their 2021/22 United Rugby Championship results would open the door for their entry to either the Champions Cup or the Challenge Cup in the 2022/23 season.
Champions Cup qualification
All points accumulated in the United Rugby Championship will be taken into account. The team with the highest number of points from each of the regional pools will participate in the Champions Cup. Dominating their own pool will be only part of qualifying to compete at Europe’s top rugby table. Performing well in the overall competition is therefore vital.
Challenge Cup qualification
Of the teams that did not qualify for the Champions Cup, the top four teams on the single league table will qualify for the second-tier European competition, the Challenge Cup. There is a risk of a team not qualifying for the Champions Cup, but scoring more league points than a team that did. The fact that the teams play each other at least once in the tournament should help to mitigate this risk a little.
Roll on the last weekend of September, when the first round kicks off.
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