In 2017, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) announced that they would be reducing the number of South African teams in Super Rugby from six to four. This decision was based on financial constraints and a desire to improve the competitiveness of the remaining teams. However, this also meant that two South African franchises would be left without a place in the tournament.
To fill this gap, SARU explored other options, and ultimately decided to move two of the franchises to Europe to compete in the newly formed PRO14 (now called the United Rugby Championship). The Cheetahs and Southern Kings were the two teams chosen for this transition.
This move was not without controversy, with many fans and analysts questioning whether it was the right decision for South African rugby. However, after a few years in the United Rugby Championship, it’s clear that the transition has been successful for both the Cheetahs and the league as a whole.
One of the main reasons for the move was financial. Super Rugby had become increasingly expensive for South African teams due to the long travel distances and time zones. The costs of travel, accommodation, and logistics were putting a significant strain on the franchises’ budgets. The move to Europe, where the travel distances are shorter and there are fewer time zone changes, has helped to alleviate this financial burden.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings were also struggling to compete in Super Rugby. Both teams had a history of inconsistency and were often at the bottom of the table. By moving to Europe, they were given the opportunity to play against a different set of teams and compete in a different style of rugby.
The United Rugby Championship is made up of teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and South Africa. The tournament is split into two conferences, with the Cheetahs and Southern Kings both playing in the Conference B. The other teams in this conference are the Cardiff Blues, Connacht, Dragons, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Munster, Ospreys, Scarlets, and Zebre.
Playing in the United Rugby Championship has allowed the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to gain exposure to different styles of rugby and learn from different coaches and players. They have also been able to attract new fans and expand their brand beyond South Africa.
The move to Europe has also allowed the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to develop their players and improve their competitiveness. Playing against stronger opposition has forced them to raise their game, and they have been able to develop a more expansive and attacking style of play.
For the United Rugby Championship, the addition of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings has been a positive move. It has helped to expand the tournament’s reach and attract new fans. The South African teams have also added a new dimension to the competition, with their style of play and physicality making them a tough proposition for any team.
The move to Europe has not been without its challenges. One of the main criticisms of the United Rugby Championship is the travel involved for South African teams. While the distances are shorter than in Super Rugby, there is still a significant amount of travel involved, with the Cheetahs and Southern Kings often having to make long-haul flights to Europe.
There have also been concerns about the impact of the move on South African rugby as a whole. Some have argued that the loss of two teams from Super Rugby could damage the development of young players in South Africa. However, SARU has made it clear that they are committed to investing in the development of rugby in the country and that the move to Europe is just one part of their strategy.
The shift of South African rugby franchises from Super Rugby to the United Rugby Championship has proven to be a beneficial move overall. The new competition has provided the Cheetahs and Southern Kings with opportunities to compete against different teams, which has contributed to their own growth and the development of their respective franchises.
Currently, South African teams are performing exceptionally well in the URC, with all four franchises occupying the top eight positions on the league table. The Stormers' recent victory is a prime example of this dominance. Out of the 20 fixtures played so far, South African sides have emerged victorious in 19 matches, with the only loss being a result of self-inflicted defeat - the Bulls defeating the Lions in Round 1.
This success builds on the strong showing of South African teams in the previous season's URC, where the Stormers and Bulls faced off in the final and emerged victorious against challengers from Ireland and Scotland in the playoffs.
Although we may miss the classic clashes with the Crusaders and Blues, it's hard to deny the current success of South African rugby clubs in the United Rugby Championship. They are currently dominating the European clubs and performing exceptionally well in front of large crowds. This has resulted in increased attention and recognition for South African rugby clubs, which is undoubtedly a positive development for the sport and the clubs, and in some ways the larger communities.