A 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.
The URC will blend world-class competition on the field while providing a platform for our players off it, allowing them 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.
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."
How will the competition work?
The URC will be played over an 18-round regular-season, using one league table to rank the 16 teams and determine who reaches the knock-out stages.
Teams will be split into four regional pools as follows:
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
Each team will play their pool rivals home and away, as well as one home or away fixture against the other 12 teams in the competition.
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 one to eight 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.
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.
2021/22 Fixture Weekends
The new United Rugby Championship will kick-off on the weekend of 24/25/26 September, with full fixture and broadcast details to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Crucially, the new season has been designed to avoid clashes with international fixtures, meaning full-strength squads for the vast majority of the campaign.
R1: Weekend 24/25/26 September
R2: 1/2/3 October
R3: 8/9/10 October
R4: 15/16/17 October
R5: 22/23/24 October
R6: 29/30/31 October
R7: 3/4/5 December
R8: 24/25/26 December
R9: 31 December 1/2 January
R10: 7/8/9 January
R11: 28/29/30 January
R12: 18/19/20 February
R13: 4/5/6 March
R14: 25/26/27 March
R15: 1/2/3 April
R16: 22/23/24 April
R17: 29/20/21 April
R18: 20/21/22 May
URC Quarter Finals: 3/4/5 June
URC Semi-Finals 10/11/12 June
URC Final: 23/24/25 June