A Year On From The PRO14 Becoming The United Rugby Championship, Has It Worked?
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One year later.
The disbanding of the PRO14 in order to include four South African teams in a competition that would now feature 16 sides was an idea that raised more than a few eyebrows. Indeed, two teams from the continent were to make way for the arrival of the southern hemisphere giants in a shakeup that did very little to appease the traditionalists who feared for the integrity of the European club competition.
In many respects, you would have to say that these concerns were not unfounded given how seismic the changes were. In short, there was every chance that some of the old boys of European club rugby were going to be marginalized. Tellingly, a year on from the announcement and with the quarter-finals about to begin, the latest competitive odds on every Rugby Union tournament which can be found here provide a particularly interesting read if you study the prices for the winner of the United Rugby Championship Grand Final.
Essentially, three of the four South African sides that entered the competition have secured quarter-final berths but the ultimate favourites to win the tournament are still Ulster, Munster, and Leinster, with the latter having been given the best price of 4/9 to lift the United Rugby Championship trophy on June the 18th.
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) May 17, 2022
What this tells us is that the royalty of European rugby, if you will, have not suffered due to the inclusion of the teams from the Rainbow Nation. Instead, one can look at the new format and conclude that it has breathed life into the competition given how close the standings are. Indeed, as the BBC recently pointed out, the exciting final weekend of the regular season has completely vindicated the decision to expand with only three points separating the sides from second to sixth.
Whichever way you look at it, rugby is at its best when jeopardy is involved and if a tournament can arrive at the final weekend before the play-offs with a strong chance that the official table could be flipped on its head come the end of 80 minutes, then it surely has to be considered a resounding success.
— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 11, 2022
Furthermore, the increased travel has not affected the level of performance as once feared with teams having to make their way to the tip of Africa and vice versa to Europe in order to fulfill their fixtures. The fact of the matter is that distance sounds a lot worse than the reality is with direct flights taking anywhere from ten to fourteen hours, depending on where teams are based. Crucially, there is no jet lag as the time zones more or less match up perfectly which means that players are not affected by any notable lack of sleep upon arrival.
The results, as we can see, speak for themselves with teams thriving in conditions that they typically don’t call their own. Needless to say, this has added to the sense of unpredictability with South African teams getting beaten on their own patch whilst also handing out humbling routs on European soil. When all is said and done, even the most ardent traditionalists would have been brought to their feet during a season that has delivered one of the most enthralling rugby spectacles seen in a long time.