The United Rugby Championship has been bolstered by a strong crowd attendance at the South African hosted fixtures of the tournament, so much so that i is rumored that discussions are underway for hosting the final in the rainbow nation. The Bulls v Ulster clash had a record crowd attendance of some 19 000 + fans in the stands at Loftus, although the reduced ticket prices may have played a roll, this shows encouraging signs as fans begin to familiarize themselves with the tournament.
As the URC is a new competition essentially, we thought we'd take a look at the structure of the play-off stages in the hope of providing some much needed clarity. However, if you'd prefer we do discuss this at length in this week's podcast episode "Manie of the Match', which you can listen to by clicking this link.
There are 4 normal rounds remaining in the URC as each side is set to play a total of 18 fixtures, with most having completed 14 of those so far. Once the regular rounds of the competition have been completed, the tournament will move over to the play-offs, with quarter, semi and finals all on the cards. The top 8 ranked sides will make it to the play-off stages.
Your top 8 will firstly be decided on log points and ranked numerically accordingly, a nice change of pace from the non-sensical approach followed in the latter years of Super Rugby. Should there be a tie, the teams will then be ranked according to matches won, thereafter according to points difference and failing that, teams disciplinary records will come into play when determining who will advance in the tournament.
From there, the top ranked side will played the lowest ranked team, with home ground advantage going in favor of the higher ranking team. i.e. 1st v 8th, 2nd v 7th, 3rd v 6th and 4th v 5th. The current top 8 rankings would see the following teams matched up in the quarter finals. Leinster v Sharks, Ulster v Bulls, Glasgow Warriors v Stormers and Munster v Edinburgh. Of course this may change over the coming weeks, but you get the format and how it is applied.
Once the four winners from the quarter finals have been determined, the top 2 ranked sides will have the privilege of hosting home semi-finals. There will be no 3rd, 4th play-off in the URC and the two sides who come out on top here, will move over to the final, which is scheduled to take place on the 18th of June 2022. Whilst ordinarily one may expect the top ranked side to host the final, the URC rules allow for a neutral and or alternate venue should it be deemed necessary by the tournament organisers.
With the South Africans being new to the competition, it may be a marvelous marketing opportunity to have the final played in South Africa, even more so if one of the home teams is to progress that far. However, I do not think it fair to host such a game at a teams home stadium then. A neutral venue such as FNB Stadium would probably be the best bet for such an occasion. If no South African team makes it to the final game however, I do not see value in hosting the final here. All in all there are still four rounds to go before we get to the knock out stages, and currently there will be 3 SA teams featuring there, barring any major hiccups along the way.
Quarter-finals - 3 & 4 June 2022
Semi-finals - 10 & 11 June 2022
Final - 18 June 2022