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United Rugby Championship

The United Rugby Championship (URC) gets underway this weekend, with sides from Ireland, Wales, Italy, Scotland and South Africa fighting it out to be crowned champions of this new competition. With the last two seasons heavily disrupted by the COVID pandemic, the new campaign promises to bring back a sense of normality. Leinster (IRE) are the current favourites to win the tournament, having won the Pro-14 last season, however there are plenty of teams willing to battle it out to the top spot.

So how does the URC work? Essentially, the 16 teams have been split into four pools. The four Irish provinces, the four Welsh sides, the four South African sides and a pool containing the Italian and Scottish teams (who have 2 apiece). Each pool will play each other home and away, as well as playing 12 fixtures against the remaining teams in the competition - 6 at home, 6 away. The South African sides will visit Europe in three or four-week blocks, playing a number of fixtures on the road, whilst the northern hemisphere sides will each visit South Africa once, playing two away games in succession.

The winner of each mini pool will be guaranteed a place in the next year’s Champions Cup, with the teams also competing in one overall table. The next four highest ranked sides in this table will also earn a European Cup place, including the South African sides, which would be a new addition. The top eight seeds in the overall league table will be seeded from 1-8, which will decide the make-up of the quarter-finals. Semi-finals and a final will then follow leading to one overall winner. Pretty simple right?

The URC’s mission is to “innovate and create new ways of bringing fans closer to the drama, using the power of rugby to create a purpose-driven league that allows our athletes and teams to amaze on the pitch and inspire change off it.” Following the successful start of the English Premiership last weekend, with fans back in the stadiums, it will be interesting to see how well supporters engage with this new tournament and ‘NBA’ model of rugby, or whether it will be an innovation too far. I, for one, am excited to see how it plays out!

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