SA is currently completing it's first full season in the United Rugby Championship and three of the four teams featuring in the competition, have realistic ambitions of making their way through the play-off stages. How far they will progress remains to be seen, but making the play-off's is one thing, qualifying for the Champions cup is entirely different and crucial important to the local game if we are to make the most of our move up North.
The European Rugby Champions Cup, formerly known as the Heineken Cup features 24 teams in total and is as close as one can get to a club world cup. 8 sides from each of the URC, the French Top 14 and the English Premiership qualify yearly to partake in the tournament and SA will become eligible to participate in the 2022/23 season. This is truly exciting as it opens up the possibility of watching the Bulls face Toulon at Loftus or the Sharks to host Saracens at Kings Park.
Focusing solely on the SA sides platform for qualification, being the URC, here is a full breakdown of how this will all work. If you prefer, the topic is fully covered by Ronnie and I, in this week's Podcast, which you can access with this link.
8 teams from the URC will qualify for the 2022/2023 season. The first 4 to qualify will be the top ranked team from each geographical pool i.e. one from each of Wales, Ireland, South Africa and one from the combined Scotland/Italy pool. With the log as it currently stands, these would be Leinster (1st), Glasgow Warriors (3rd), Stormers (5th) and Scarlets (9th). All of these four sides qualify based on the fact that they lead their geographical pools and this ensures representation from each country in the tournament.
The next 4 spots for qualification will go according to the ranking on the overall, combined log and will work as follows: Ulster (2nd), Munster (4th), Sharks (6th), Edinburgh (7th). So although the Blue Bulls are 8th overall on the combined log, they would not qualify for the Champions Cup due to Scarlets earlier qualification.
For ease of reference then, the following teams from each country would represent the URC in the Champions Cup.
Ireland: Leinster, Ulster, Munster (3 teams)
SA: Stormers, Sharks (2 teams)
Scotland/Italy: Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh (2 teams)
Wales: Scarlets (1 team)
The only deviation from this comes into play if the winner and the runner up in the Champions Cup are from the URC. The previous seasons winner and 2nd place, automatically qualify for the following years tournament by default. Once they are included, the same qualifying principles as explained above come into effect and determine the other teams participation in the tournament.
This is a truly exciting opportunity for South African Rugby and will afford our players even more exposure and quality opposition than they faced during the subsistence of Super Rugby. I strongly believe the inclusion in this elite competition is exactly what is needed to get all SA fans on board with our Super Rugby exodus and full invested in the new competitions we are involved in.