Four leading clubs from South Africa – the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions – have joined the other 12 northern sides to form a 16-team league.
There will be 18 rounds in the regular season with home and away fixtures in each of the four Shields – Irish, Welsh, Scottish/Italian and South African – with the other 12 encounters being played either home or away before the top eight advance to the play-offs.
Zebre Parma welcome the Lions to Italy on Friday to begin the new season before Cardiff host Connacht and Ulster take on Glasgow Warriors later that night.
Rainbow Cup winners Benetton are in action first on Saturday against the Stormers, with Edinburgh playing their first competitive match at their new stadium when the Scarlets visit.
PRO14 champions Leinster then collide with Rainbow Cup SA winners, the Bulls, in Dublin before Munster and the Sharks round off the day’s action at Thomond Park.
A Welsh derby between the Dragons and the Ospreys at Rodney Parade concludes the opening round on Sunday.
RTÉ and United Rugby Championship have officially launched URC TV, a new global streaming service offering fans around the world the opportunity to watch games live and on-demand, and follow their team home or away. Visit www.urc.tv to sign up.
UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1:
Friday, September 24 –
Zebre Parma v Emirates Lions, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, kick-off 6.35pm local time (live on Mediaset/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport Rugby)
These two meet for the first time as they open the new URC campaign in Parma. Zebre will hope the new season signals a change of fortunes for them having lost their previous eight Championship matches, their last victory coming at home to the Dragons in February.
Two of their three wins over South African opponents came in Parma – against the Kings in 2018 and the Cheetahs two years later.
The Lions have registered just one win – against Griquas at Currie Park – since losing to the British & Irish Lions in July and triumphed on their only previous visit to the northern Hemisphere when they beat the Sunwolves in Tokyo five years ago.
ULSTER v Glasgow Warriors, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm (live on Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)
Ulster finished as runners-up to Leinster in PRO14 Conference A last season before a disappointing Rainbow Cup campaign, their win over Edinburgh in their final match snapping a five-game losing streak in all competitions.
Dan McFarland’s men won both meetings with the Warriors last season and have triumphed in their last five meetings with Scottish opposition.
Glasgow finished third in the Rainbow Cup having pipped the Dragons to fourth place in Conference A. They won four in a row after a surprise loss to Benetton, with their home victory over Leinster in June halting a run of nine straight losses to Irish provinces.
Cardiff v CONNACHT, Cardiff Arms Park, kick-off 7.35pm (live on TG4/BBC Two Wales/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport Action)
Cardiff followed up a fourth place finish in PRO14 Conference B by coming fifth in the Rainbow Cup, having won three of their final four matches.
They have an excellent record against Connacht, winning 24 and drawing two of their 35 meetings, and have been beaten just once – by Munster – at the Arms Park since January 2020.
Connacht were runners-up in Conference B and had a decent Rainbow Cup campaign in which they beat Ulster, Munster and the Ospreys. The westerners have won just three times at this venue (2001, 2013 and 2017) and have not triumphed outside of Ireland since beating Benetton in February.
Saturday, September 25 –
Benetton v DHL Stormers, Stadio di Monigo, kick-off 1pm local time (live on Premier Sports 2/Mediaset/SuperSport Rugby)
New head coach Marco Bortolami will be looking to build on Benetton’s stunning Rainbow Cup triumph having taken over from Kieran Crowley.
After beating the Vodacom Bulls in Treviso, Benetton have been unbeaten at home since losing to Cardiff in March and have lost just one of their eight previous matches against South African opposition.
The Stormers won three and lost three of their Rainbow Cup matches as they finished second behind the Bulls and now meet Benetton for the first time. Their last outing in the northern Hemisphere ended in a 26-23 defeat to the Sunwolves in Hong Kong in Super Rugby back in 2018.
LEINSTER v Vodacom Bulls, Aviva Stadium, kick-off 5.15pm (live on TG4/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)
The standout fixture of round 1 as PRO14 champions Leinster take on the Bulls, the Rainbow Cup SA winners. Leinster have only lost one of their 23 league matches at the Aviva Stadium – against Munster in 2014 – and have come out on top in six of their seven encounters with South African opposition.
Despite losing to Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final, the Bulls head into the URC campaign having been crowned Currie Cup champions for the second successive year. They overcame the Cell C Sharks in the Loftus Versfeld final having suffered their last defeat to the same team in early August.
Edinburgh v Scarlets, Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, kick-off 5.15pm (live on Premier Sports 2/S4C)
Two new coaches will be on show on a day of firsts as Edinburgh host the Scarlets in their maiden competitive match at their new Edinburgh Rugby Stadium. Mike Blair has taken over from Richard Cockerill at the capital club, while former player Dwayne Peel has returned to lead the Welsh side.
Edinburgh missed out on a place in the Heineken Champions Cup last season before a disappointing Rainbow Cup campaign – their last win coming against Zebre in April – and have not beaten a Welsh opponent since an 18-0 victory over Cardiff last November.
However, they have lost just one of their last eight meetings with the Scarlets, whose 27-25 win at BT Murrayfield in February was their first over a Scottish side since beating Glasgow in October 2019.
MUNSTER v Cell C Sharks, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm (live on RTÉ 2/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport Rugby)
Munster are bidding to go one better this season having lost to Leinster in the PRO14 final as they chased their first title since 2011 before finishing second to Benetton in the Rainbow Cup.
The men in red won eight of their nine clashes with South African teams, while the last non-Irish side to beat Munster in the Championship were the Scarlets in 2017.
The Sharks were beaten 44-10 by the Vodacom Bulls in the Currie Cup final in Pretoria earlier this month, having come third in the Rainbow Cup SA. Their previous trip to the northern Hemisphere came in February 2019 when they beat the Sunwolves 45-10 in Singapore in Super Rugby.
Sunday, September 26 –
Dragons v Ospreys, Rodney Parade, kick-off 2pm (live on Premier Sports 1)
The Dragons will hope a Welsh derby can help fire them to a winning start to the new season after a bleak 2020/21. Dean Ryan’s side were the only Welsh region to miss out on the Heineken Champions Cup before finishing second-bottom in the Rainbow Cup.
They have lost their last four Championship matches and have triumphed in just two of their previous nine meetings with Welsh opponents.
The Ospreys, who have won 24 and drawn one of their 37 meetings, beat Leinster, Cardiff and the Dragons in the Rainbow Cup, having finished up in third spot in PRO14 Conference A.
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Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
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Farrell Named Coach Of The Year As Five Irish Players Make Dream Team
Andy Farrell has been named Coach of the Year and five Irish players included in the Men’s Dream Team at a star studded World Rugby Awards Ceremony tonight. Former International Referee David McHugh was also honoured on the night with the World Rugby Referee Award.
Just hours after South Africa defeated the All Blacks to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an historic fourth time at Stade de France, the victorious team reunited to open the spectacular 90-minute show, held at the breathtaking Opéra Garnier in the heart of Paris.
Farrell was named World Rugby Coach of the Year, recognising his achievement in leading Ireland’s to a Six Nations Grand Slam and top spot in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini for 15 months.
Speaking about the award Andy Farrell said, “I would like to thank World Rugby for this recognition and congratulate the other nominees for their efforts this year. Coaching is a demanding and hugely rewarding profession, with many highs and lows, and in accepting this award, I would like to pay tribute to the players and wider coaching and support staff who work tirelessly to bring success to Irish rugby.
I am incredibly proud to work with such a talented and committed group. This award is recognition for all those involved in Irish rugby and our incredible supporters who travel near and far to support us. I am honoured to accept this award on their behalf.”
Four nations are represented in the Dream Team with Rugby World Cup 2023 hosts France and Ireland claiming five players apiece, New Zealand four and World Champions South Africa one.
Three Irish forwards made the team with Dan Sheehan, Tadgh Furlong and Caelan Doris included. In the backline Bundee Aki, who was shortlisted for Player of the Year, and his centre partner Garry Ringrose were named.
McHugh was given the World Rugby Referee award in recognition of his dedication and contribution to the game of rugby which spans more than 20 years, from his decade as an international referee taking charge of 28 tests. He officiated at three Rugby World Cups between 1995 and 2003, and has acted as a mentor for the next generations of match officials, including the likes of Joy Neville and John Lacey in Ireland and Nika Amashukeli in Georgia.
Of the 11 awards presented in Paris, nine were selected by the star-studded World Rugby Awards panels, while the International Rugby Players Men’s Try of the Year was decided by a fan vote on social media.
Nominees and winners in a further four women’s categories will be announced and celebrated separately, at the conclusion of the ongoing WXV tournament.
World Rugby Men’s XVs Dream Team
1. Cyril Baille (France) 2. Dan Sheehan (Ireland) 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) 4. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) 5. Scott Barrett (New Zealand) 6. Caelan Doris (Ireland) 7. Charles Ollivon (France) 8. Ardie Savea (New Zealand) 9. Antoine Dupont (France) 10. Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand) 11. Will Jordan (New Zealand) 12. Bundee Aki (Ireland) 13. Garry Ringrose (Ireland) 14. Damian Penaud (France) 15. Thomas Ramos (France).
World Rugby Award Winners
World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in partnership with Mastercard – Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
World Rugby Coach of the Year – Andy Farrell (Ireland)
World Rugby Men’s 15s Breakthrough Player of the Year in partnership with Tudor – Mark Tele’a (New Zealand)
World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year in partnership with HSBC – Rodrigo Isgro (Argentina)
World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in partnership with HSBC – Tyla Nathan-Wong (New Zealand)
World Rugby Referee Award – David McHugh (Ireland)
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service – George Nijaradze (Georgia)
Rugby for All Award – SOS Kit Aid
International Rugby Players Special Merit Award – John Smit (South Africa)
International Rugby Players Men’s Try of the Year – Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductees: Daniel Carter (New Zealand), Thierry Dusautoir (France), George Smith (Australia), Juan Martín Hernández (Argentina), Bryan Habana (South Africa).
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Historic Rugby Calendar Reform To Supercharge Reach And Competitiveness
The World Rugby Council has approved transformational reform of the global men’s and women’s rugby calendars, a seminal moment for the sport that marks a new era of opportunity, certainty and growth for the game, a fitting finale to its 200th birthday year.
Reform of Regulation 9 governing international player release has paved the way for the global club and international game to complement each other with clearly defined windows of release for international duties, as well as enhanced player welfare outcomes in the form of Player Load Guidelines.
Shaped through close collaboration with the players and stakeholders from across the whole sport, including domestic and international competitions, regions, unions, the adjustments have been driven by a game-wide commitment to prioritise player welfare while supporting desired competitiveness increases across performance unions.
In the women’s game, the decision means clearly defined global and regional player release periods for the first time with no domestic competition overlap, opening the way to a harmonious structure that promotes opportunity and growth ahead of an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup in 2025.
In the men’s game, new competition structures coupled with an increased level of cross-over fixtures between the high performance and performance unions, will deliver long-term certainty of content for the first time, supporting increases in competitiveness, interest and value ahead of a landmark Rugby World Cup in the USA in 2031.
Together, these developments crucially allow for better management of player load and overall welfare in the game, with the development of new Player Load Guidelines and ongoing expert input to oversee the development and evolution of the guidelines working with all stakeholders.
First-ever global calendar for women’s rugby with dedicated release windows
- First-ever dedicated international release windows (regional release window of seven weeks and global release window of eight weeks) from 2025.
- Clarity of release periods for club/league and cross-border competitions, to allow certainty of planning and investment.
- A commitment to more effectively manage player load and welfare in the fast-evolving women’s game, working with all stakeholders
- A framework to review the women’s global calendar and international competition structures on an ongoing basis to recognise that fast-evolving environment and opportunity.
First-ever global calendar for men’s rugby with new competitions and increased opportunity
- Establishment of an enhanced global calendar for men’s rugby with clearer international windows, including confirmation of the release window for Rugby World Cup 2027 (Australia).
- Expansion of Rugby World Cup to 24 teams in 2027, providing more qualification opportunities for more teams and regional competitions.
- Launch of a bi-annual new international competition from 2026, comprising a top division of 12 teams (Six Nations unions, SANZAAR unions and two further unions to be selected via a process run by SANZAAR), and a second division run by World Rugby of 12 teams with promotion and relegation commencing from 2030. Played in the July and November international release windows, it will provide crucial opportunities (and certainty of fixtures) for unions currently outside of the existing annual competitions, and in turn provide opportunities for unions and regional associations through to the second division.
- The competition provides players and fans with compelling matches, to build audiences and value for all.
- A significant uplift in the number of cross-over matches between unions in the respective divisions are included in the global calendar in the two other years, providing performance nations with annual competition certainty against high performance unions.
- Launch of new annual expanded Pacific Nations Cup competition in 2024, featuring Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and USA with home fixtures and Japan and USA alternating as finals hosts, guaranteeing a minimum of three additional matches a year in addition to the new international competition and cross-over fixtures.
- The global men’s calendar provides additional clarity for elite league and cross-border club competitions, supporting value growth investment opportunities for all.
The reform follows extensive consultation with the professional game, including regions, unions, domestic and international competitions, and detailed evaluation of the playing, commercial and fan landscape. Implementation of the agreed package will continue to involve dialogue with all parties.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “It is fitting that we finish Rugby World Cup 2023, the sport’s greatest celebration of togetherness, with the sport’s greatest feat of togetherness. Agreement on the men’s and women’s global calendars and their content is the most significant development in the sport since the game went professional. An historic moment for our sport that sets us up collectively for success.
“We now look forward to an exciting new era for our sport commencing in 2025 (women) and 2026 (men). An era that will bring certainty and opportunity for all. An era that will support the many, not the few, and an era that will supercharge the development of the sport beyond its traditional and often self-imposed boundaries. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their spirit of collaboration. Today, we have achieved something special.”
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