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United Rugby Championship Heralds a New Era for Club Rugby

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Ulster Rugby will compete alongside 15 teams from South Africa, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Ireland in a new ‘United Rugby Championship’ competition from next season.

The United Rugby Championship will kick off in September 2021 as the top clubs from South Africa (Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls) combine with the Guinness PRO14 to create a world-class 16-team league.

The United Rugby Championship will be bigger, bolder and stronger than its predecessors. Teams from five of rugby’s elite nations – Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa will transform the competition into a league of super clubs, which will embrace difference and champion its athletes on their journey with the URC proudly representing all of those involved with the game.

Off the field the United Rugby Championship will strive to provide a platform for our players to tell their stories so that their achievements in sport and society can inspire the next-generation of rugby talent and the sport’s supporters to prove that rugby is a game for all.

This game-changing agreement between SA Rugby and PRO14 Rugby will strengthen their existing partnership and will drive greater growth of the game for the benefit of all 16 teams in the league.

Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship, said: “Fans have always asked more of our league and now we are taking it to new heights. The United Rugby Championship will see World Cup winners, icons of the Guinness Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and stars of the British & Irish Lions tour turning up the intensity in an exciting new league format. Since the origins of the Celtic League in 2001, the vision has been to innovate and evolve in order to create a compelling competition which would challenge our players and teams to be at their very best every single week. Their potential has never been in doubt and now we can provide them with the arena to be the very best.

“Forming the United Rugby Championship will begin to reshape the world of club rugby. We are creating a league that embraces and celebrates difference and where the only way to succeed will be to match the skill and intensity of the international game.

“The arrival of South Africa’s elite teams and the removal of fixtures from international match weekends will make our league stronger across the board. We will see heroes taking on heroes every week in iconic locations to create an appeal that will be unmatched in in the world of club rugby.

“We now have a clear purpose and identity that everyone associated with our league can stand behind. We have listened and we have answered the challenge set by our clubs to take this competition to the next level both on and off the field. North and south will now collide on a regular basis and we cannot wait to see who will rise up as the first champions of the United Rugby Championship.”

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “South African rugby has for many years imagined a future aligned with northern-hemisphere rugby and this announcement marks the arrival of that vision.

“Our teams will be pitting themselves against the leading clubs from four nations, steeped in rugby tradition and folklore. They’ll do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatise while 100 per cent of matches will kick off in South African prime time.

“This is a watershed moment in South African rugby history, opening new doors and heralding a new and exciting era for our sport.”

Crossing New Horizons in Rugby

This agreement will create a pathway for SA Rugby to become a full shareholder in Pro Rugby Championship (PRC DAC) alongside the Celtic and Italian unions. In a sporting landscape looking towards the post-pandemic future this unification of north and south provides everyone involved in the United Rugby Championship with optimism for prosperous days ahead.

Subject to contract, all teams in the United Rugby Championship will be eligible to qualify for EPCR competitions in time for the 2022/23 season.

In comparison to the Guinness PRO14 structure, the 18-round regular season in the United Rugby Championship will see the return of a single-standing table that will prevent clashes with international weekends and leave little margin for error for those chasing the title. Every game will count in the league which will be further strengthened by an expanded knock-out series that aims to deliver more jeopardy with a full schedule of quarter-finals and semi-finals capped off by a Grand Final played in a destination venue.

The United Rugby Championship will set the stage where the diversity of playing styles, languages and fan cultures will clash across iconic locations in rugby heartlands week after week. The new league will also allow South Africa’s former Super Rugby sides to operate in a common time zone which will help open up greater audiences across the league and increase commercial appeal.

United Rugby Championship League Format

The URC will use one league table to rank the teams who will reach the knock-out stages and compete to reach the title and become the champions.

Fixtures: The regular season of the United Rugby Championship will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising of six (6) Home AND away fixtures against their regional pool opponents and12 Home OR away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league

Regional pools

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

Final Series/Play-Offs: One league table will be used to rank teams and after 18 rounds the top eight sides will qualify for the Play-Offs. Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding.

A full round of Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals will take place to produce two teams who will qualify for the Grand Final.

United Rugby Championship – Champions Cup and Challenge Cup Participation

A total of eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will qualify each season for the following season’s Heineken Champions Cup. The balance of teams will participate in the Challenge Cup.

Subject to the finalisation of contract terms with EPCR, South African teams will be eligible to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup from the 2022/23 season if they have finished in the United Rugby Championship qualification places from the prior season.

All points won during the URC season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools and the highest-ranking team in each of the four pools 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 local rivalries.

The remaining four places in the Champions Cup will be awarded to the four highest-ranked teams from the single-standing league table who have not already qualified through the four regional pools.

Source – Ulster Rugby


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Arendse enjoying proving people wrong as he returns to action

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Kurt-Lee Arendse enjoys nothing more than proving all those people who told him he was too small to play rugby wrong.

The diminutive 26-year-old, who is 5ft 9ins and 11st 13lbs, is one of the most talked about players in the world game right now, following his try-scoring exploits for the Springboks in the autumn internationals, culminating in his superb finish during last weekend’s victory over England at Twickenham.

Now he is back on Vodacom United Rugby Championship duty, having been named at full-back by the Vodacom Bulls for Saturday’s encounter with in-form Cardiff Rugby at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.

Hailing from the Western Cape of South Africa, Arendse found his size was often held against him as he looked to make his way in the game.

Asked whether people told him he was too small to play the sport when he was younger, he said: “I’ve heard that a lot, but I don’t listen to negative comments. I just focus on what I want to achieve.

“We small players like to be underestimated, but at the same we like to prove people wrong. Whenever we get the opportunity, we look to do that.”

As for his mindset when he comes up against players who are much larger than him physically, he has the perfect riposte.

“Obviously guys are bigger, but they move really slow! They have their weaknesses, so you look to capitalise on those,” he says.

One concession he does make in terms of the size of opponents is wearing a scrum-cap, which is becoming something of a trademark of his.

“It’s just for safety because guys are bigger than me. It gives me more confidence in tackles,” he explains.

In terms of a role model when he was growing up, he name-checks former DHL Stormers back-three man Gio Aplon, who won 17 caps for the Springboks around a decade ago.

“He was also small and underestimated, but he kept on proving people wrong. He was one of the guys I looked up to and I was fortunate to play with him at the Vodacom Bulls towards the end of his career, which was nice.”

Starting out in age-grade rugby with Western Province and Boland, Arendse first made his mark in Sevens, initially for the University of Western Cape and then with the Blitzboks.

He was a regular fixture with the South African Sevens team for a couple of years, but with the World Series being put on hold due to Covid, he switched to the 15-a-side game by joining the Vodacom Bulls in 2020, going on to make an immediate impression with his speed and elusive running.

Last season, he made more clean breaks (24) than any other player in the Vodacom URC and was fourth in terms of defenders beaten (43), while he also showed his predatory prowess by scoring seven tries.

That fine form was rewarded this summer when he made his Test debut against Wales in Bloemfontein. He is now up to seven caps and seven tries, having lit up the international arena with his finishing over the past few months.

There were touchdowns against New Zealand and Argentina in the Rugby Championship and then this autumn he has crossed the whitewash versus Ireland, France, Italy (twice) and England, with the last of those seeing him scorch outside Marcus Smith.

On that Twickenham sizzler, he said: “It was a special moment for me to score that try for my team. All that really went through my mind was just to dot the ball down. That was it. It was nice to contribute to my team.

“It’s been my first season for the Springboks and there have been ups and downs, but I am grateful for the opportunity I have had. I am just happy.

“We enjoy each other’s company and we have a great leader in Siya Kolisi, who knows the game well. It’s just great to have the opportunity to play for your country. For me, it’s about focusing on each game, being in the moment and not thinking too far ahead.”

Now it’s back to the Vodacom Bulls, who lie third in the Vodacom URC and will be looking to go one better than last season, having lost to the DHL Stormers in the final during the inaugural year of the 16-team competition.

“We had a slow start in the Vodacom URC last year and took a few shots, but we analysed the games and did well after the first couple of rounds,” said Arendse.

He returns to the fold for a meeting with Cardiff, who pulled off a startling 35-0 bonus point victory over the Cell C Sharks in Durban last Sunday.

“It was tough for the Sharks. We will try not to lose against Cardiff,” declared Arendse.

Then it’s on to the Heineken Champions Cup, with the Vodacom Bulls facing Lyon and Exeter in the group stage as they embark on their first European campaign.

“It’s going to be a good competition and we are really looking forward to it. We can only learn from playing in the Champions Cup. It will be good for us in South Africa. We are definitely here to compete. I think people in Pretoria will come out in numbers for the games. It’s an exciting time for rugby.”

It’s certainly an exciting time for Arendse who is confirming the old adage that rugby really is a game for all sizes.

Content & Images from – Vodacom Bulls Rugby


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Seven changes for champions clash

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Wales international hooker Bradley Roberts returns to the starting line-up as Dragons RFC face reigning league champions the DHL Stormers in BKT United Rugby Championship on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 12noon UK).

The Men of Gwent make seven changes from the side that was narrowly defeated by Emirates Lions for the league clash at Gqeberha.

Roberts is back up front after his autumn exploits with Wales and is joined in the pack by lock Matthew Screech, who makes his first start since his return on loan.

Huw Taylor takes the six jersey, alongside Aaron Wainwright and captain Ross Moriarty in the back row.

A new half back pairing sees the recalled Rhodri Williams and JJ Hanrahan combine.

Centre Max Clark joins forces with Steff Hughes in midfield while the final change is a call-up for Jordan Williams on the wing.

Harri Keddie, Will Reed and Aneurin Owen are the new faces among the replacements.

“We are most certainly going up a level against the Stormers,” said Head Coach Dai Flanagan.

“Their squad is very strong. They had a lot of development players in the side against the Scarlets, but it didn’t change the way they play.

“They have a DNA and they challenged the Scarlets a lot; they have line speed in defence and play a bit more with their back line than then opposition we faced last week.

“I’m sure they’ll have some internationals back this weekend because they go to Clermont after us and, if it was me, I’d want them involved.

“We are preparing for the very best Stormers team and we have to be ready.”

Dragons RFC: Angus O’Brien, Sio Tomkinson, Steff Hughes, Max Clark, Jordan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Rhodri Williams; Aki Seiuli, Bradley Roberts, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Sean Lonsdale, Huw Taylor, Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty (c)

Replacements: James Benjamin, Josh Reynolds, Chris Coleman, Harri Keddie, Ben Fry, Lewis Jones, Will Reed, Aneurin Owen

Unavailable: Elliot Dee (collarbone), Rob Evans (head knock), Lennon Greggains (finger), Ollie Griffiths (calf), George Nott (hand), Will Rowlands (shoulder), David Richards (hamstring), Jared Rosser (shoulder)

Content & Images from – Dragons Rugby


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John Ryan Becomes 13th Player To Join Munster 200 Club

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John Ryan starts against Edinburgh on Friday night, becoming the 13th Munster player to join the 200 club at the DAM Health Stadium.

Ryan has scored six tries in 199 Munster appearances and has earned 24 Ireland caps to date, he turned 34 in August and lined out for the Barbarians last month.

He is the third most capped player in the current squad behind Stephen Archer (252) and Dave Kilcoyne (207).

From Berrings in Cork, Ryan is a former CBC student and represented Munster at Schools & U19/20 level, and played with the International Club XV side in 2010 and 2011.

A Cork Constitution clubman, he has also lined out for UCC in the AIL and made his Munster debut away to Cardiff in September 2011.

After developing ulcerative colitis in 2011, Ryan had to battle with the condition in maintaining his weight but has enjoyed a long and successful career to date.

He joined London Irish on loan for the opening games of the 2012/13 season before returning to Munster and went on to make his European debut against Racing Metro in January ’13 in Thomond Park.

International recognition followed as he played in Emerging Ireland’s Nations Cup winning campaign in Romania in June 2014.

After his first European start against Clermont at Stade Marcel Michelin in December ’14, Ryan scored his first try for the province against Ospreys in March and finished out the 2014/15 season with 20 appearances.

Continued to increase his involvement every season and made 25 appearances in 2015/16.

A tremendous 2016/17 in both the red of Munster and green of Ireland saw him nominated for Munster Player of the Year and make no less than 9 Irish appearances.

A try scorer and Man of the Match in Munster’s 2017 Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulouse, the previous November he made his Irish debut against Canada at the Aviva Stadium before featuring in every game of the 2017 6 Nations.

Included in the Ireland squad for the Summer Tour to the USA and Japan, Ryan made his first international start against the USA, going on to start all three Tests.

Made his 100th appearance for Munster against the Ospreys in September 2017 and finished the season with 24 appearances to his name. On the international front, Ryan was a Grand Slam winner with Ireland and also helped the national side to the Summer Series victory over Australia.

Made his 100th league appearance away to Cheetahs in November 2018 and was called up to the Ireland squad for the November internationals and 2019 6 Nations.

Signed a three-year contract extension in early December 2018, committing to the province until at least June 2022.

Scored his first international try against USA in November and made two appearances in the 2019 6 Nations.

Ryan was included in the Ireland Rugby World Cup squad that travelled to Japan in 2019 and featured in one game.

Made his 150th Munster appearance against Ulster in January 2020 and made 14 appearances over the 2019/20 season.

Featured for Ireland in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup and the 2021 Vodafone Summer Series during a strong campaign with Munster that saw him make 17 appearances.

Departed Munster for Wasps at the end of the 2021/22 season but returned to the province on a three-month contract in October 2022 after Wasps went into administration.

Ryan started on his first game back against Ulster last month before featuring off the bench against Connacht and starts on his 200th Munster appearance in the vital clash away to Edinburgh on Friday night.

Munster’s 200 Club

John Ryan, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Marcus Horan, David Wallace, John Hayes, Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Alan Quinlan, Anthony Foley.

View biogs of the players who have reached the 200 cap milestone here.

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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