South African rugby teams included in Europe’s Champions Cup

June 2, 2022 GMT

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Three South African teams have been included in Europe’s top club rugby competition from next season, tournament organizers said on Thursday.

The Cape Town-based Stormers, Pretoria-based Bulls and Durban-based Sharks will compete in the Champions Cup, having all qualified for the playoffs in their first season in Europe’s United Rugby Championship league.

The URC also involves teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy but not English and French clubs, who play in their own domestic leagues and the Champions Cup.

The announcement by European Professional Club Rugby, which runs the Champions Cup, was expected. South Africa’s decision to join northern hemisphere club competitions two years ago was driven by the chance to play in the Champions Cup.

“Ever since we’ve made the decision to align with the northern hemisphere, our aim was to play in the EPCR competitions,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said.

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“We now have an opportunity to also start rubbing shoulders with the top clubs from England and France.”

Four South African teams were added to the URC last year after South Africa cut ties with the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition. The Stormers, Bulls and Sharks all finished in the top eight in their first season in the URC and will play in the quarterfinals this weekend.

The Johannesburg-based Lions, which finished 12th out of 16 teams in the URC, will play in the Challenge Cup next season. The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs were also added to the Challenge Cup despite not playing in any European competition this season.

South Africa decided to pull out of Super Rugby in 2020 after nearly 30 years playing against club teams from New Zealand and Australia. SA Rugby’s decision to instead look to the northern hemisphere was because of similar time zones and the opportunity to access a much bigger television audience. The presence of South Africa’s top clubs also expands European rugby’s market.

The South African teams “will all bring hugely exciting southern hemisphere rugby, well-known world-class players and broad new audiences into our tournaments,” European Professional Club Rugby chairman Dominic McKay said.

McKay said it was “a crucial step forward.”

South Africa’s decision to play its club rugby in the northern hemisphere has fueled speculation that the world champion Springboks may also move north and play in the Six Nations. Six Nations organizers have denied having any current plans to add South Africa and the Springboks will continue to play against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship this year.

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