16-Team United Rugby Championship Announced Consisting Of A Single League Table
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Following today’s announcement, the United Rugby Championship can confirm that the brand-new league format will consist of a single league table and 18 rounds of action with 16 teams across five territories.
Four regional pool tables will determine the six Home and Away fixtures played by each team in their territory.
The remaining 12 games will be made from an even number of Home or Away games against the other teams in the league. Regional pools were designed to amplify rivalries and competitiveness among nations.
Irish Pool: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster
Welsh Pool: Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys, Scarlets
South African Pool: Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls
Italian & Scottish Pool: Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre Rugby Club
After 18 games, the top eight teams will qualify for the Quarter-finals, followed by Semi-Finals and a Final. Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding for these fixtures.
Regular season games reduced from 21 to 18 with no crossover with international weekends
By removing the crossover with international weekends everyone can expect to see the top talent playing more often than in the past. With expectations that the competitiveness of the league will be increased by the addition of the South African teams, it will ensure that every game counts in the race to reach the knock-out stages.
The regular season will consist of 18 rounds followed by three rounds of knock-outs including the Grand Final to provide an overall total of 21 game weekends per season. This is down from a total of 24 when the tournament was previously a 12-team league.
Why regional pools have been introduced
The regional pools are a mechanism to ensure all home and away derby games are played while also recognising a champion for that region each season. The Irish, South African and Welsh teams all have their own natural pools of four while the Scottish and Italian teams will enter into their own pool of four because each there are only two participants from each nation involved.
This also means that Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, Benetton and Zebre will only play two derby games per season rather than three in the PRO14 format. The fixtures from the regional pools will account for six games with the remaining 12 games played against all other teams in the league. Points from all 18 games will be used in the single-standing league table and for the regional pools.
Heineken Champions Cup qualification
A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup. The winner of each pool will qualify, followed by the next highest ranked teams in the main league table. From 2022/23, South African teams will be able to enter the Champions Cup if they have finished in the qualification places in the URC standings in 2021/22. Regional pool mechanic will ensure at least one team will qualify.
All points won during the URC season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools and the winner of each pool will earn a place in the Champions Cup for the following season. This addition to the format is expected to add even greater intensity to these age-old rivalries.
The remaining four places will then be awarded to the four highest-ranked teams in the single-standing league table who did not win their regional pool. Final seeding for the Champions Cup will be based upon the league positions of all eight teams.
How are home or away fixtures decided?
The initial balance fixtures will be predicated on a number of factors including stadium availability; club preference; player welfare, broadcast rights and the accommodation of mini‐tours involving fixtures with South African clubs. Each year the home or away fixture will alternate much like it does in the Guinness Six Nations, so if Ospreys played away to the DHL Stormers in Cape during the 2021/22 season, then they would host the Stormers in Swansea the following year and the fixture would continue to alternate on that basis.
How the knock-out stages will work
After 18 rounds, the top eight teams will be seeded 1 to 8 with the four highest-ranked teams having home advantage for the Quarter-finals. That seeding will also determine who plays at home in the Semi-finals.
How seeding will work for Quarter-final fixtures: 1st v 8th , 2nd v 7th, 3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th
Each season the URC Grand Final will be held at a destination venue similar to the Guinness PRO12 and PRO14 deciders held between 2015 and 2019.
Fixture Dates for 2021/22 season:
R1: Weekend 24/25/26 September
R2: 1/2/3 October
R3: 8/9/10 October
R4: 15/16/17 October
R5: 22/23/24 October
R6: 29/30/31 October
R7: 3/4/5 December
R8: 24/25/26 December
R9: 31 December 1/2 January
R10: 7/8/9 January
R11: 28/29/30 January
R12: 18/19/20 January
R13: 4/5/6 March
R14: 25/26/27 March
R15: 1/2/3 April
R16: 22/23/24 April
R17: 29/20/21 April
R18: 20/21/22 May
URC Quarter Finals: 3/4/5 June
URC Semi-Finals 10/11/12 June
URC Final: 23/24/25 June