SA Rugby: United Rugby Championship to start next month
SA Rugby has confirmed that the eagerly-anticipated United Rugby Championship (URC) will kick off next month.
The Lions will be the first SA team in action when they take on Italian side Zebre in Parma on September 24 in round one of this exciting venture while the Stormers will meet Benetton in Treviso the following day.
The SA focus will then shift to Ireland, where the Bulls and Sharks are starting their campaigns on September 25 with coach Jake White’s men facing Leinster in Dublin and Munster welcoming the Sharks in Limerick.
The URC revealed all 144 regular season fixtures as SA’s top sides take to the field against the Celtic and Italian nations in a global first for rugby.
Building on the rivalry created during this year's British and Irish Lions Series in SA, the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls now take the pitch in iconic locations against the best of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales across 18 rounds of action.
The SA teams will complete four-week tours of Europe to begin the season, giving fans in Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland an early opportunity to see these new sides in person.
SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said the announcement of the fixtures starts an exciting time for SA rugby as part of the strategic migration to the north in the same time zones.
“It is great to announce how and where we are playing, how the new formats will work and what teams we are playing. It will not be an easy start as we need to learn to play in northern hemisphere conditions against very good sides.
“We have huge respect for our new opponents and with the fixtures out we can start preparing in all earnest for the challenges ahead. It will be tough playing away, but we want to make this work even though we are in a pandemic.”
Roux is hopeful that when the return fixtures are due, SA will be off the red list and that the northern teams will be able to play in the SA teams' home venues in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
In the new format all 16 teams will be ranked across a single table which will reward the top eight sides with their places in an expanded final series that includes a full quarterfinal stage, followed by semifinals before the best two teams meet in the URC grand final in June.
Martin Anayi, United Rugby Championship CEO, said: “We believe these fixtures will ensure that the URC could deliver on its promise of a new era for our league where the very best from SA go head-to-head with our Celtic and Italian teams.
“As we carefully manoeuvre out of the pandemic, the URC will take its place as one of the leading leagues in global rugby and this fixture list should ignite our competition and take it to the next level.
“This schedule is the most complex we have ever produced and the efforts of every one of our stakeholders to help us piece it together in the current climate have been monumental.
“We now have a format that will heighten competition, showcase our clubs, elevate our athletes and bring great excitement to fans and TV audiences right across our territories and beyond.”
URC Round One Fixtures —
September 24: Zebre v Lions, Ulster v Glasgow Warriors, Cardiff v Connacht
September 25: Benetton v Stormers, Leinster v Bulls, Edinburgh v Scarlets, Munster v Sharks
September 26: Dragons v Ospreys