United Rugby Championship

SA rugby set for 'big awakening' next season as more European competition looms

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John Dobson (Getty)
John Dobson (Getty)
  • South Africa has secured three teams in next season's lucrative European Rugby Champions Cup. 
  • The Sharks, Stormers, and Bulls will all take part in the competition. 
  • The European expansion will provide further challenges to these teams, who are still competing in the domestic Currie Cup.

Regardless of what happens in the final round of United Rugby Championship (URC) fixtures later this month, it has now been confirmed that South Africa will field three franchises in next season's European Rugby Champions Cup. 

The Sharks, Stormers, and Bulls still have much to play for in terms of log position and home ground playoff advantage in the URC, but the fact that they have secured their ticket to the grandest, most prestigious rugby competition in Europe already makes this maiden URC season a South African success story. 

That, after all, was the dangling carrot of South Africa's move into Europe, with giants like Montpellier and Saracens now set to travel to these shores. 

There is also the obvious commercial benefit that comes with playing in the Champions Cup - which resembles its footballing equivalent in its relationship with Heineken - and that, too, should justify the initial decision to break away from Sanzaar and Super Rugby. 

Listening to Stormers coach John Dobson after his side's 20-13 win over Leinster on Saturday night, however, it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. 

Far from it. 

Fielding competitive sides in both the URC and the Currie Cup has already been a challenge for South Africa's franchises this season, with the quality of the domestic competition suffering somewhat along the way. 

The Currie Cup has effectively become a URC training academy for the four premier sides, but even then, the depth of the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls has been stretched by the fact that each union in this country can contract a maximum of 50 senior squad players. 

If one throws in a third senior competition in the Champions Cup, then stretching a squad that far becomes even more of a concern. 

"One thing is getting there, the other thing is competing in it," said Dobson, matter-of-factly. 

"We wanted people to be proud to be Stormers fans again, and being in the Champions Cup is very important, but how we compete in it is going to be a challenge and there will be wars on two fronts with different squads. 

"I think that is a big awakening coming for South African rugby.

"I think we'd all be deluding ourselves if we thought we had the firepower within our squads at the moment to do that, and that's probably the challenge.

"Let's get in there, and then fight from within to make sure we've got the resources."

Increasing squad sizes is one option, but that obviously comes with financial consequences. 

"I don't think on 50 players we have the ability to compete in three senior competitions. It's going to be good for our players and for us and we need to fly our flag firmly in Europe and the URC," added Dobson. 

"It's something that has to get solved.

"We've got a relatively smaller budget than some of the other teams and a smaller playing squad.

"The team that played the Cheetahs [earlier this season in the Currie Cup], 13 of those guys that started have played URC this year, so we are red-lining in terms of using our squad.

"We can increase squad sizes, yes, but we need to be able to get the players in and manage them."

The Stormers, meanwhile, take on Scarlets in Llanelli in their final URC group stage fixture on 21 May.

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Sat 16 Apr 22 18:35 PM (SAST)
Llanelli Scarlets
Parc y Scarlets, TBC
Fri 22 Apr 22 16:30 PM (SAST)
Glasgow Warriors
DHL Stadium, Cape Town
Fri 22 Apr 22 18:35 PM (SAST)
Kingspan Stadium, TBC
Sat 11 Jun 22
Stormers 17
Ulster 15
Fri 10 Jun 22
Leinster 26
Vodacom Bulls
Vodacom Bulls 27
Sat 04 Jun 22
Stormers 28
Edinburgh 17
Team Logo
1. Leinster Rugby
Team Logo
2. Stormers
Team Logo
3. Ulster Rugby
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4. Bulls