VIDEO: Europe celebrates SA teams' arrival
REACTION: Following confirmation of the inclusion of franchises from South Africa in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup for the 2022/23 season and beyond, Europe’s three main professional leagues have expressed their ‘approval’ of the historic expansion of EPCR’s tournaments.
The Cape Town-based Stormers, the Bulls from Pretoria and the Durban-based Sharks will compete in next season’s Champions Cup, while the Lions from Johannesburg will fly the flag for South Africa in the EPCR Challenge Cup.
In addition to the four qualifiers from the United Rugby Championship, the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs have been invited to participate in the 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup.
“The entry of the South African franchises to the URC has revitalised our league, created new rivalries and driven up the levels of competition,” United Rugby Championship Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Martin Anayi said about the major development for the game in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
“It is mouthwatering to see the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks all involved in our play-offs and their presence is making a major impact on broadcast audiences and fan engagement.
“Adding the opportunity for these franchises, as well as for the Cheetahs, to compete in EPCR’s competitions will only strengthen what are two of the world’s elite club rugby competitions.”
Premiership Rugby Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Simon Massie-Taylor, added: “It is very exciting to have these five South African franchises joining EPCR’s tournaments. Their inclusion will take the competitions to a new level of intensity for the players and enjoyment for the fans.
“Our Premiership franchises are looking forward to playing against some of the best the southern hemisphere has to offer and matching up against players from South Africa’s Rugby World Cup 2019 winning side.
“It is a big step forward in expanding the reach of these unique and special tournaments, and bringing world-class, international club rugby to new audiences.”
Ligue Nationale de Rugby Director General and EPCR Board member, Emmanuel Eschalier, said: “The arrival next season of the four South African franchises competing in the URC, as well as the Cheetahs, is a major development for EPCR’s competitions.
“The participation of these high-level franchises will strengthen the appeal and sporting intensity of the Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup with the potential for further development of these great competitions.”
The South African franchises in the Champions Cup will be in the mix against newly-crowned winners, Stade Rochelais, who lifted the trophy for the first time in dramatic style in Marseille last weekend, as well as Lyon who also claimed a historic first European title when they won the EPCR Challenge Cup Final.
EPCR welcomed more than 110,000 fans to the Stade Vélodrome over the course of the two finals with a record Challenge Cup attendance of 51,431 witnessing Lyon’s victory over RC Toulon, while 59,682 went through the turnstiles for last Saturday’s showpiece match between Stade Rochelais and Leinster.
The formats for next season’s Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will be announced shortly, in conjunction with details of the pool draws for both tournaments which will be staged towards the end of the month.
The 2023 Final – for both Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – are scheduled for Dublin on Friday, May 19 (2023) and Saturday, May 20 (2023).