Five South African franchises will join the Champions Cup and the European Challenge from the 2022-2023 edition, the organizers of the European rugby cups announced on Thursday.
The Cape Stormersthem Pretoria Bulls and the Durban Sharks will thus compete in the Champions Cup, won last Saturday by La Rochelle, while the Johannesburg Lions and the Bloemfontein Cheetahs will evolve, them, in its little sister, the European Challenge, won this season by Lyon.
The first three named have been competing in the United Rugby Championship (URC) since last season with Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian provinces.
The Stormers (2nd in the URC), the Bulls (4th) and the Sharks (5th) therefore qualified for this title, alongside the Irish of Leinster, Munster and Ulster, the Scots of Edinburgh and of the Welsh of the Ospreys.
Let things be clear, I am not at all, at all, in favor of the arrival of South Africa in the European championshipVincent Merling, president of the La Rochelle club, European champion
The Lions finished 12th in the URC and will therefore play the Challenge. Just like the Cheetahs, who currently play in the Currie Cup but are invited to the “small” European Cup.
These arrivals, assures the president of the EPCR Dominic McKay, “will bring a really interesting touch of Southern Hemisphere rugby to our tournaments, world class players and new supporters”.
“This is a crucial step in realizing our vision for the development of rugby and our own tournaments, continuing to deliver strong commercial revenue to our leagues and creating an ever higher level of exciting matches for our fans. “added the boss of the organizing body.
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For the time being, the terms of this integration are not known. The EPCR must announce “soon” the formats for next season, along with the details of the group draws for the two tournaments, scheduled for the end of the month.
EPCR Director General Anthony Lepage is delighted to welcome “South African franchises as famous and as followed” in European Cups. He believes that this “will allow these competitions to reach a new level in elite rugby, with the best South African players now able to compete against the best French and English players”.
“We are very excited to raise the bar even higher next season, with matches featuring South African World Cup winners, in addition to the European stars who are already rocking the stadiums.”he added.
Same story on the side of the South African Federation: “Our five franchises will now play in two new territories against opponents we have never faced before. We have experienced the intensity of URC before and now we will also face the best clubs in England and France”estimated the director general of the SARU Jurie Roux.
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“It’s not next door, it’s going to take time”
This enthusiasm is not necessarily shared by everyone. The president of La Rochelle Vincent Merling, freshly champion of Europe, thus denounces “a loss of identity”.
“Let me be clear, I am not at all, at all, in favor of South Africa entering the European championship. Now that South Africa is participating in the Champions Cup, it is not “It’s no longer the European Cup. It’s a favorable response that we offer to Celtic rugby who ardently wanted it but, for the president of the Stade Rochelais that I am, I don’t understand”he assured on the eve of the announcement.
Clément Poitrenaud, the back coach of Stade Toulouse, also believed in early May that this integration “distorts the competition”.
We have to see how it will be organized, the trips will be a bit long. The advantage is that there is no jet lag but it will be tough all the samePierre-Henri Azagoh, Stade Français player
The Italian, Scottish and Welsh franchises, which thus see their chances of participating in the European Cups dwindling with this new competition, would also have things to complain about. Just like the players, faced with the prospect of long trips to another continent in the midst of an already extended season.
“We have to see how things are going to be organised, the trips are going to be a bit long. The advantage is that there is no jet lag, but it’s going to be tough all the same. We have to see how the matches will be scheduled in relation to the schedule of the Top 14”French Stade player Pierre-Henri Azagoh told AFP.
“If we have to go, we’ll go. It’s a great experience to go there, to play against South African teams. But it’s true that it’s not close, it’s going to take time , it’s going to be a bit tiring but also rewarding”added the international second line.
The 2023 finals of the two continental competitions are scheduled in Dublin on May 19 and 20.