With the United Rugby Championship countdown arriving closer and closer to the competition’s September 24 ‘kick off’ it’s become a reality for fans, teams, and stakeholders.
The replacement of the Guinness PRO14 league has been touted as ‘bigger and better’ than before, the proof will be in the product. In the opening weekend’s match outcomes, as much as in how the new format works for both hemispheres.
Little more can be said then, it is time for clubs to put their money where their mouths are. Although, in terms of spending and the investment made by the Celtic League and its partners, to finally watch rugby union is a victory on its own.
United Rugby Championship countdown is on!
Designed now to accommodate a total of 16 teams, the format was altered to include four conferences, with inter-conference matches played from September until the Grand Final scheduled for June 18. By that time, 18 rounds of matchplay will be followed by playoffs to decide the 2021/22 titleholder.
Current holders Leinster lead the Irish quartet who should feel very confident. Complimenting the Scottish clubs will be the Italian sides. Including winners of the Rainbow Cup, Benetton.
While Benetton appeared to stun challengers the Bulls earlier this season, the South African sides are more determined and will want to show how their conference is not only there to make up the numbers.
This is true also of the Welsh group. With the likes of Scarlets and Ospreys, the team’s from Wales must perform better to gain any positive form for European competition.
Before any side can aim for the Heineken Champions Cup schedule and 2023 draw, they must all prepare for September 24. For Scarlets, that included a hit-out against Nottingham RFC. The inter-nation match had a semblance of nostalgia and grassroots rugby values. Yet even a nine-try trouncing provided only a portion of what they might face against the Emirates Lions. They will be a completely different beast.
🗞️ Match report as Scarlets run in nine tries in entertaining pre-season clash at @official_parc
Adroddiad gêm yn dilyn naw o geisisau yn ein buddugoliaeth yn erbyn Nottingham
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) September 4, 2021
Cross-competition matches offer positives and evaluation
Meanwhile, Connacht Rugby accepted an invitation from Gallagher Premiership team, the Worcester Warriors. It presented much more of a challenge, and one the men from Galway would fail to meet – yet they may gain more in defeat, as learnings are taken ahead of a more crucial warm-up against the Lions on September 10.
In another preseason fixture, Cardiff Rugby would meet English title-holders, Harlequins. In a test of both side’s qualities, new Cardiff director of rugby Dai Young told URC, “It was the typical game of two halves. If you look at the two set-ups, we probably did it in reverse – we went stronger to start and brought some less experienced guys on and they did it the other way.”
Many, or most of the coaching staff will take what they can from preseason encounters. Taking the positives away is paramount yet employing a wealth of combinations; both established and for many, new. Those conditions afford such strategic movements. And results do not always impact on the opening match results.
So for those who have found evenly matched sides already, they will be a step ahead of some who may need to travel before they meet any opposition. The South African quartet especially will need to feel comfortable in their traveling groups. A huge factor for all sides, it will be even more so in 2021/22 for the ex-Super Rugby franchises.
It is the evaluation by each of the 16 teams that is important here. Critical now, as the early rounds will determine form yet – as has been the case shown by Benetton – ending the long season strongly, can bring a wealth of rewards.
United Rugby Championship start – Round One, September 24 – 26
Zebre v Lions | Ulster v Warriors | Cardiff v Connacht | Benetton v Stormers | Leinster v Bulls | Edinburgh v Scarlets | Munster v Sharks | Dragons v Ospreys
“Main photo credit”
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