United Rugby Championship Week 1: Rome wasn’t built in a Day

United Rugby Championship Week 1

Domestic rugby has well and truly returned for the entire northern hemisphere. Away from the incredible display of entertainment across the Top 14 and Premiership, a new league has been formed: the United Rugby Championship.

Brand new teams added, broadcasters, and branding. However, this ensured there was more scrutiny on the opening round than any other league. Yes, it wasn’t perfect but the message to anyone reading this is to stay calm.

Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Celtic league harsh welcome for South African teams in Week 1

A summary to a casual fan checking the scores from the weekend would be the following. The Lions scraped past the worst side in the league, Zebre, by 12 points. The Stormers lost to the other Italian side, Treviso, which isn’t any more impressive.

Finally, the two top performers in South Africa had the first taste of dark and depressing demolition jobs in Ireland. It happens to everyone- especially in Dublin. As Munster heavily defeated the Sharks, and Leinster delivered the same to last year’s Rainbow Cup finalist, the Bulls.

Although the reality is that the difference between the Currie Cup or Super Rugby and the URC is like night and day. The former has come under criticism in recent years due to the internationals not playing regularly. In actual fact, the number of internationals in the United Rugby Championship is up there with the top leagues in the world. The style of play as well is ‘completely different’. Add all this to the various environments on offer –  get ready Bok fans for a cold windy night down in the Showgrounds.

Overall a slow adjustment period has begun for all the South African teams, especially when they are away from home. Come to the turn of the year when the likes of the Sharks have 8 returning Springboks the gap will close – Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am to name a few. Away days in South Africa, where the Boks are most comfortable, will also play a huge factor in league standings. The Bulls haven’t lost a home game in two years under Jake White, a baptism of fire in the Aviva might be the best thing to happen to this team for when Leinster visit.

United Rugby Championship Week 1 – Broadcasters on point

One of the greatest challenges is being able to showcase the tournament successfully around the world. The URC has eight official broadcasters across UK, Ireland, Wales, South Africa, and Italy.

An issue in the first weekend was the commentary in South Africa. It was the Irish commentary for fans in the southern hemisphere so it could be a reason for many potential fans turning away. Although this is the difficulty with streaming, it should be easy enough to resolve.

On the positive side, there seemed to be more games with studio pundits helping to again add more value to URC as a product. Featured games away in Italy or South Africa require the same level of coverage in the UK on Premier Sports.

Too often last season’s games had no pre or post-game analysis. The difficulty in having so many broadcasters is having the same level of consistency in high-level coverage across all platforms.

Keep an eye on the United Rugby Championship

Leinster. Yes, it is that simple. Although Munster equally looked dominant against South African opposition, Leinster look like they’ve started as they left off. However, the days of using 57 players in a season might be over.

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Edinburgh, under Mike Blair. are a side to keep an eye on after an impressive opening day at their new stadium against Scarlets. There seems to be a good buzz around the place. Glasgow as well pushed Ulster to the last minute against a loud Kingspan which is no easy feat. In Wales, the Ospreys looked dangerous with the return of Gareth Anscombe. Many more stars are still to come back and they will want to lead the way.

All in all, the teams look better than ever across the board, and this is only week one. Keep an eye on the United Rugby Championship as with the right financial backing, the product has the potential over the next 5-10 years to grow fast. Patience is key.

But remember, all good things come to those who wait.


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