United Rugby Championship a defining moment, but not without challenges


For the first time in the professional era, South Africa’s top rugby franchises will not participate in the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby competition.

Instead, the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will all make their debuts in the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC). The revamped competition, formerly known as PRO12 and more recently PRO14, will, at first glance, test South African teams in a way they have never tested before, but may prove to be more beneficial for SA Rugby. .

ESPN spoke to stakeholders about the new competition which will see all four SA teams play against teams from Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland.

“Decisive moment in the history of South African rugby”

“Our members are excited about the prospect of a closer alignment with the United Rugby Championship and the search for a future in the northern hemisphere for our national teams as well,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux told ESPN .

“South African rugby has imagined for many years a future aligned with northern hemisphere rugby. Our teams will oppose the big clubs of four nations, anchored in the tradition and the folklore of rugby.

“They will do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatize while 100% of matches will begin in prime time in South Africa. It is a watershed moment in South African rugby history, opening new doors and heralds an exciting new era for our sport. “

The ambition of the bulls

The Bulls have been the strongest team in the country over the past two domestic seasons and have won every trophy on offer in South Africa. They face Leinster first. The Irish giants are probably among the favorites to win the tournament. The fact that nearly 40,000 people are allowed to enter Aviva Stadium – the fortress of the traditional European power plant – will make it even more difficult for Jake White’s men.

After winning the SA Rainbow Cup earlier in the year, the Bulls took off against Benetton in Treviso in what would have been a timely revelation. Despite this, the Bulls have made it clear that they don’t want to be seen as hikers.

“Being part of a top competition like the United Rugby Championship is an honor in itself,” Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone told ESPN.

“All of the participating teams are ambitious and equally competitive, with the ultimate goal of being crowned champions. So it’s no different for us at the Bulls. We wouldn’t be being honest if we said we weren’t here for the win. Our ambition goes even further as we have our sights set on a participation in the Heineken Cup which would be quite exciting for the Bulls and South Africa as a whole. “

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ national dominance is the result of stability in the boardroom and financial support from well-respected businessmen Patrice Motsepe and Johann Rupert.

Kempson questions depth

White, in his dual roles as director of rugby and head coach, has managed to attract top players to Loftus Versveld and now has depth in most positions, which Robbi Kempson says is a former prop. the Springboks – who had played relays at Newport in Wales and the Irish side, Ulster – will be a key requirement in the RCU.

Kempson also coached the Southern Kings in the PRO14 and is concerned about the depth and quality of some of the SA teams.

“The Bulls will probably be our best team again. They have good depth and that’s something you need in these competitions. If you look at the depth of a team like Leinster, they probably have a top 55 squad. players who will They monitor the welfare of their players quite well.

For our other South African teams, I see a very dark and gloomy picture, unfortunately. Their depth just isn’t good enough and in some cases their starting XI isn’t good enough. I don’t see an easy opening in four weeks for any of our teams, but the Bulls will have the upper hand, “Kempson said.

Money talks

Ronnie Cooke, a South African players’ agent and former center for the Kings, Cheetahs and French club Brive, believes the RCU could see more better South African players drawn to the northern hemisphere by the pound and the euro.

“I think it will be the best rugby competition in the world. You only have to look at the number of top international players competing to realize that it will be top of the line rugby. It will have an impact on our industry, however. and especially in the South African market, ”Cooke said.

“I think there is a bit of a risk that we will lose our best players. We all know that European teams all have bigger budgets than ours and now all of a sudden they will have the luxury of seeing all of our best players during the week and week. But I think moving north was the right decision. It now gives us the opportunity to share commercial and TV rights, which will generate more income for the South African teams. “

– World Rugby plans a World Cup every two years

Rathbone also sees business opportunities in this new venture.

“It’s an opportunity to bring our brands into a new market and in doing so reach a wider audience. The RCU is a leading rugby league and, by simple association, our sales network can be directed to a wider global audience. Rathbone added.

Roux suggests that the financial benefits of RCU outweigh the disadvantages.

“Our entry into the competition is an investment in the long term financial success of rugby in South Africa. It comes at a cost, but we went with our eyes wide open and given the uncertainty in the structures of the team. southern hemisphere – even pre-COVID – it gives our game long-term security and expanded horizons, ”Roux concluded.

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