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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


Champions Cup

Academy Trio Stepping Up & Contract News

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Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Academy trio Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Mark Donnelly will be promoted to the senior squad in the summer.

We can also confirm that hooker Scott Buckley, who graduated from the Academy to the senior squad in 2022, has signed a contract extension.

Out-half Butler, scrum-half Coughlan (both 21) and 22-year-old prop Donnelly have all signed on for the next two seasons after impressing over their three years in the Academy.

Butler and Coughlan become the first Ennis RFC players to earn senior Munster contracts.

As previously confirmed, Academy lock Edwin Edogbo (21), who also came up through the Munster Youths system with Cobh Pirates, will graduate from the Academy to the senior squad on a two-year deal next season.

Buckley, Butler, Coughlan and Donnelly all made their Munster debuts in the famous Champions Cup win over Wasps in December 2021.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Ennis out-half Tony Butler has earned his first senior contract after a very productive three years in the Academy.

He has made six senior appearances to date, including two starts so far this season against Dragons and Connacht.

A Grand Slam winner with the Ireland U20s in 2022, Butler now plays his AIL rugby with Young Munster having previously lined out for Garryowen.

He captained Ennis at underage level, teaming up with Coughlan in the half-backs as they enjoyed success in the Munster U16 and U18 Clubs competitions.

Scrum-half Ethan Coughlan is enjoying an excellent campaign with three starts so far this year and eight senior appearances in total since joining the Academy.

He enjoyed great success alongside Butler with Ennis RFC at underage level before captaining the Ireland U18 Clubs team.

He also won a Grand Slam with the Ireland U20s in 2022 and plays his AIL rugby with Shannon.

Prop Mark Donnelly has already made nine senior appearances for Munster after coming up through the ranks at Midleton RFC, Midleton College and CBC.

He was a Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup winner with CBC in 2019 and featured for the Ireland U20s in the 2021 Six Nations.

He joined the Academy that summer before making his Munster debut along with Buckley, Butler and Coughlan against Wasps in December 2021

Along with his nine senior Munster appearances, Donnelly has also played regularly for Garryowen in the AIL over the past three years.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Hooker Scott Buckley (23) has signed a one-year contract having made 25 appearances for Munster to date.

A product of the Munster Rugby Academy, Buckley started out with Kinsale RFC before captaining CBC to the Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2019.

He was Player of the Match against Wasps on his Munster debut and made nine appearances last season as Munster won the URC title.

A UCC clubman, he scored the match-winning try against Crusaders at Páirc Ui Chaoimh earlier this month.

Scott Buckley scores a try against Leinster in pre-season.

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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Squad Update Ahead Of Zebre At Virgin Media Park

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The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Friday night’s URC Round 11 clash against Zebre at Virgin Media Park (7.35pm).

There are a limited number of tickets available here.

25 players lined out in the thrilling encounter against Harlequins on Friday night, including eight Academy players and two young club players. Scroll down for match highlights.

The squad is boosted by the return of Tom Ahern, Craig Casey and Jeremy Loughman from international duty ahead of Friday night’s clash in Cork.

On the injury front, Academy back-row forward Ruadhán Quinn has completed the return to play protocols and is available for selection.

Following the game against Harlequins on Friday night, Academy duo Shay McCarthy (ankle) and Daniel Okeke (elbow) will go for scans and are unavailable this week.

Continuing to rehab: Simon Zebo (knee), Patrick Campbell (shoulder), John Hodnett (finger), Paddy Patterson (knee), Jack O’Donoghue (knee), Dave Kilcoyne (shoulder), Diarmuid Barron (foot), Jean Kleyn (eye/knee), Liam Coombes (shoulder), Roman Salanoa (knee).

Video | Harlequins v Munster Highlights

Tickets

URC Round 11: Friday, March 1

Munster v Zebre Parma, Virgin Media Park, 7.35pm; Buy final tickets here

U20s 6 Nations Round 5: Friday, March 15

Ireland v Scotland, Virgin Media Park, 7pm; Buy final tickets here

URC Round 13: Saturday, March 30

Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here

Women’s 6 Nations Round 3: Saturday, April 13

Ireland v Wales, Virgin Media Park, 4.45pm; Buy tickets here

URC Round 16: Saturday, May 11

Munster v Connacht, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here

URC Round 18: Saturday, June 1

Munster v Ulster, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

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Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

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Ulster Rugby and the IRFU can confirm that Dan McFarland will step down from his position as Head Coach.

After joining the club in 2018, McFarland has been the longest-serving Head Coach for the province in the professional era, with the club reliably securing play-off rugby in URC and EPCR competitions during his time at the helm, including reaching the PRO14 final in 2020.

Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, said:

“We would like to thank Dan for his determination in driving forward the professional squad over the past six seasons, and I would like to wish him and his family the best for the future on behalf of all at Ulster Rugby.”

The change to the Senior Men’s coaching set-up is with immediate effect, with Ireland U20s Head Coach, Richie Murphy, to link-up with the province as interim Head Coach until the end of this season following the Under-20s Six Nations. Bryn Cunningham, Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment at Ulster Rugby, will also assume greater management responsibilities within the performance function during this time.

Assistant Coach, Dan Soper, will oversee operations next week ahead of Ulster facing Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Round 11 of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

Petrie continued: “With Richie coming to Ulster in the coming weeks, ahead of the squad travelling to South Africa, our focus will be on consistently performing to the best of our abilities at this crucial time of the year.”

Images & Content – Ulster Rugby


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