The Pro14 is rebranding to 'United Rugby Championship'
South African club sides will be eligible to play in Europe’s top competitions, the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, from the 2022-23 season.
The news comes as part of a rebranding of the competition previously known as the Pro14, now called the ‘United Rugby Championship’, which will see 16 sides compete against each other next season from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales.
The new league is still subject to approval from the World Rugby Council, but would complete a long-held ambition in South Africa to have their teams playing in Europe on a regular basis, as opposed to Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “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.”
As for the season’s structure, there are four pools – Irish, Welsh, South African, Italian/Scottish – while the regular season will cover 18 rounds, with each team playing six home and away fixtures against the other teams in their pool, and 12 fixtures against the remaining sides.
Teams will be ranked using one league table, with the top eight sides at the end of the season qualifying for the quarter-finals. Eight teams will qualify for the 2022-23 Champions Cup, starting with the top-ranked side from each pool, and then the next-highest ranked teams in the overall league table. The remaining sides will play in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
The United Rugby Championship will get underway in September 2021.
Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship, said: “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. We will see heroes taking on heroes every week in iconic locations to create an appeal that will be unmatched in the world of club rugby."
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