Pro14 teams up with SA Rugby to form United Rugby Championship

South African sides Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls will join existing Pro14 teams Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Benetton and Zebre.

Bulls players celebrate a try during their Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Lions on 7 November 2020. Picture: @BlueBullsRugby/Twitter

LONDON - A new 16-team United Rugby Championship will start in September, bringing together clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa, after an agreement between Pro14 Rugby and SA Rugby, it was announced on Tuesday.

South African sides Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls will join existing Pro14 teams Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Benetton and Zebre.

The four former Super Rugby sides replace South African outfits Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who previously played in the Pro14.

Subject to contract terms being finalised with European Professional Club Rugby, South African teams will be eligible to play in the Champions Cup from 2022/23.

United Rugby Championship (URC) chief executive Martin Anayi said the new league would "begin to reshape the world of club rugby," while SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux described it as "a watershed moment in South African rugby history".

The competition format comprises four regional pools of four - the two Italian sides and two Scottish teams grouped together in one pool - with teams playing each other home and away in their group, plus one fixture against each of the other 12 sides.

The top eight teams in a single table after those 18 regular season encounters will then enter a straight knockout phase, culminating in a grand final.

All points won during the URC season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools, and the highest-ranked team in each of the four groups will earn a Champions Cup place for the following season.

The remaining four allocated Champions Cup spots will go to the four highest-placed league teams that have not already qualified through their regional pools.

"Forming the United Rugby Championship will begin to reshape the world of club rugby," said Anayi.

"We are creating a league that embraces and celebrates difference, and where the only way to succeed will be to match the skill and intensity of the international game.

"The arrival of South Africa's elite teams and the removal of fixtures from international match weekends will make our league stronger across the board."

SA Rugby chief executive Roux 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 will do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatise, while 100% of matches will kick off in South African prime time."

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