The PRO14 is to be re-branded as the ‘United Rugby Championship’ from next season onwards as part of a new era for the competition which will see the four South African franchises previously involved in Super Rugby join the party.   

The revamped tournament will consist of a single 16-team league table, but will also be split into four regional pools, with every side playing two games (home and away) against the three other teams in their regional pool, and one game (home or away) against the other 12 sides in the competition, meaning 18 regular season games in total. 

The regional pools will consist of: Ireland (Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster), Wales (Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys and Scarlets), South Africa (Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls) and Italy/Scotland (Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors and Zebre). 

The top eight teams in the table at the end of the season will qualify for the tournament play-offs, consisting of three seeded rounds of knock-out rugby [quarter-final, semi-final and final]. 

Meanwhile, it is anticipated that the four South African sides in the league will be eligible to compete in the Heineken Champions Cup from 2022-23 onwards, with the eight qualification spots from the league to be distributed between the top side from each of the four regional pools and the four highest-ranked teams from the single-standing league table (who have not already qualified through the four regional pools). 

As in previous years, the teams which don’t make the Champions Cup in any given season will play in the Challenge Cup instead. 

This announcement is a significant step in creating a pathway for SA Rugby to become a full shareholder in Pro Rugby Championship (PRC DAC) alongside the Celtic and Italian unions. 

“Forming the United Rugby Championship will begin to reshape the world of club rugby,” said Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship. “We are creating a league that embraces and celebrates difference and where the only way to succeed will be to match the skill and intensity of the international game. 

“The arrival of South Africa’s elite teams and the removal of fixtures from international match weekends will make our league stronger across the board.  

“We now have a clear purpose and identity that everyone associated with our league can stand behind. We have listened and we have answered the challenge set by our clubs to take this competition to the next level both on and off the field.”