27 September 2021


    The evolution of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship

    It’s making history, and it has a history. So here you go. This is all you need to know about where the Vodacom United Rugby Championship comes from, and where it’s going.

    It’s making history, and it has a history. So here you go. This is all you need to know about where the Vodacom United Rugby Championship comes from, and where it’s going.

    The Welsh-Scottish League

    The league ran for a brief period in 1999 and 2000 and featured 12 teams drawn from Wales and Scotland. But it was significant in that, with the move towards professionalism in rugby, it was a good indicator for UK rugby in particular of how their various unions could work together on a strong club competition.

    The Celtic League

    In 2001, teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales came together to compete in what was then known as the Celtic League. It was the first of what was called a pan-Celtic competition and was played alongside each country’s own domestic competition.

    The Pro12

    In 2011, the Celtic League was rebranded as the Pro12 and Italian clubs joined the fray for the first time. This was a major move away from just the Celtic nations as the league started flexing its muscles towards even greater expansion and more intense competition.

    The Pro14

    This expansion gained momentum in 2017 when South Africa first entered the competition in the form of the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings.

    The Vodacom United Rugby Championship

    Initially mooted as the Pro16, the Vodacom United Rugby Championship brought the full force of South African rugby into the fold as the Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers joined teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy. The once-off Rainbow Cup in which the Vodacom Bulls played Benetton in the final in Italy and lost marked this transition to what is being billed as a competition that’s bigger, bolder and stronger.

    So how does it work?

    The new Vodacom United Rugby Championship will feature a league of 18 regular season games – nine at home and nine away. The league will be divided into four pools – a South African Pool, Irish Pool (Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht), Welsh Pool (Ospreys, Cardiff, Scarlets, Dragons) and Scotland-Italy Pool (Benetton, Edinburgh, Zebre, Glasgow). This will allow each team to play six of their 18 games against their traditional local Derby rivals. The top eight teams will then qualify for the playoffs. A further incentive is the chance to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup. The teams that finish top of their pool after the regular season games will automatically qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup, as well as the four highest-ranked teams on the league table after them.

    What hasn’t changed?

    The one constant in all of this change has been the winners – Irish rugby.

    In the 20 previous versions of the competition, Irish teams have won 13 finals. They’ve also finished runners-up 13 times.

    And Leinster have been particularly successful. They won the first competition in 2001, and they won the last four versions of the competition (2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020). The last two of those finals were all Irish affairs.

    So where is all of this going?

    We’ll let David Jordan, the Tournament Director of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, tell you all about this:

    “We want to unite people around rugby like never before and create a version of the game that is inclusive – a game for all. And for this it’s wonderful to have a brand of Vodacom’s standing involved. Vodacom has a strong rugby heritage in South Africa, and it’s made it very easy for us because we don’t have to tell rugby fans in the North about the South African teams. They know them well from having watched decades of Vodacom Super Rugby on their televisions. Add in the Springboks’ success in the Rugby World Cup and the recent British and Irish Lions Tour and there is a lot of excitement building. So, Vodacom brings so much to the league and our ability to build the awareness and momentum.”