La Gaceta De Mexico - European rugby shakes up cup competitions with South African entry

European rugby shakes up cup competitions with South African entry
European rugby shakes up cup competitions with South African entry / Photo: © AFP

European rugby shakes up cup competitions with South African entry

A South African team could succeed La Rochelle in lifting the European Champions Cup trophy in 2023 after it was announced on Thursday that five franchises from the country will compete in the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup from next season.

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"In a landmark expansion of its tournaments, EPCR is delighted to confirm that the five leading clubs from South Africa will compete in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup from the 2022/23 season and beyond," read a statement by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR)

"The Cape Town-based Stormers, the Bulls from Pretoria and the Durban-based Sharks will compete in next season's Champions Cup following impressive campaigns in the United Rugby Championship, while the Lions from Johannesburg and the Cheetahs will fly the flag for South Africa in the Challenge Cup."

Whether this paves the way for South Africa being invited into the Six Nations is open to question as the organisers of the northern hemisphere championship have denied this was on the cards.

The Springboks are tied to the southern hemisphere competition till 2025.

However, they had notified he southern hemisphere's governing body, SANZAAR that they were exploring the option of joining the Six Nations.

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, thanked those who had made Thursday's announcement possible, adding that based on their participation in the URC competing in the two European competitions would only improve playing standards in South Africa.

"It has happened earlier than planned, as we started this process more than two years ago after Super Rugby imploded, but this has now become reality, which really is great news for South African rugby," said Roux in a SA Rugby statement.

"The first season of the URC has really been an eye-opener for our teams, but it also presented a wonderful opportunity to our players to participate in a superb competition.

"I firmly believe we are on the right track by playing in these competitions in the Northern Hemisphere, and we certainly can't wait to get involved in the EPCR competitions as it will only further enhance the local game."

South African teams were brought into the expanded URC (formerly the Celtic League) after New Zealand Rugby withdrew from Super Rugby in 2020.

EPCR counterpart Anthony Lepage said it would boost the sport globally.

"This is a hugely significant step forward in realising our ambitions to grow our tournaments and bring these outstanding competitions to new audience across the globe," he said.

The formats for next season's Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will be announced shortly, in conjunction with details of the pool draws which will be staged towards the end of the month.

The 2023 Finals weekend is scheduled for Dublin's Lansdowne Road on May 19 and 20.