South Africa’s Super Rugby sides will be eligible to play in the European Champions Cup from next year.
The Sharks, Stormers, Lions, and Bulls have replaced the Cheetahs and Southern Kings in an upgraded and expanded Pro14 renamed as the United Rugby Championship starting in September.
The plan announced on Tuesday is for the South African sides to be allowed to play for the European club title from 2022-23, subject to contract terms being finalized with European organizers.
They join Pro14 sides Cardiff, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons from Wales; Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht from Ireland; Edinburgh and Glasgow of Scotland; and Bennetton and Zebre of Italy.
“South African rugby has for many years imagined a future aligned with northern hemisphere rugby, and this announcement marks the arrival of that vision,” SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said.
“Our teams will be pitting themselves against the leading clubs from four nations, steeped in rugby tradition and folklore. They will do it without having to cross time zones or acclimatize, while 100% of matches will kick off in South African prime time.
The cross-hemisphere competition comprises of four regional pools — South Africa, Wales, Ireland, and a combined Scotland and Italy — with the four teams in each playing home and away, plus one fixture against each of the other 12 sides. The top eight enter a straight knockout phase culminating in a final.
The pool winners will earn a Champions Cup place for the following season, and the remaining four allocated Champions Cup spots will go to the four highest-placed league teams that have not already qualified through their regional pools.
URC chief executive Martin Anayi claimed the new league will “begin to reshape the world of club rugby.”