PRO14 rebrands as the United Rugby Championship with FOUR South African franchises added to form new 16-team competition… in ‘watershed’ plans starting in September
- The Pro14 will now be a 16-team competition starting in September 2021
- The new event will have four South African franchises involved from the off
- The format means at least one South African team will play in the European Cup from 2022
- The new United Rugby Championship will be divided into four regional pools
At least one South African team will play in the European Cup from 2022 after the PRO14 league re-branded as the ‘United Rugby Championship’, which will rip up club rugby as we know it.
The competition between Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian clubs has formally added the four biggest South African franchise sides to its league to make it a 16-team competition which will start in September, running to a June grand final.
The new tournament will be divided into four pools – a Welsh four, Irish four, South African four and one with the two Scottish and Italian teams combined – and each of those will provide a qualifier for the Heineken Champions Cup from 2022-23.
The Bulls (pictured after winning the 2020 Super Rugby Unlocked event) will be one of four South African franchises added to the league rebranded as the United Rugby Championship
Scarlets take on Edinburgh in the Pro14, which will be a 16-team competition next season
How will it work?
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
Final Series/Play-Offs: One league table will be used to rank teams and after 18 rounds the top eight sides will qualify for the Play-Offs.
Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding.
A full round of quarter-finals and semi-finals will take place to produce two teams who will qualify for the Grand Final.
So that means at least one of the Bulls, Stormers, Lions or Sharks will take part in the Champions Cup the season after next – a South African team could be crowned champions of the old ‘European’ Cup as early as 2023.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: ‘South African rugby has for many years imagined a future aligned with Northern Hemisphere rugby and this announcement marks the arrival of that vision.
‘Our teams will be pitting themselves against the leading clubs from four nations, steeped in rugby tradition and folklore.
‘They’ll do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatise while 100 per cent 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.’
One of the key announcement for the United Rugby Championship is that their club matches will not overlap with international Tests, in an attempt to strengthen the league and avoid swathes of absentees.
Each side will play three home and three away fixtures against their pool opponents, then 12 other matches – home or away – against the rest of the league, ensuring sides play all 15 other teams in the table at least once.
The top eight after 18 rounds will then compete in quarter-finals, with semis and a final to finish.