South African rugby could be involved in European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) tournaments from next season onwards, if a comment from Lions Rugby Company CEO Rudolf Straeuli is to be taken at face value.
Whether that participation will be in the top tier European Rugby Championship Cup or the second division EPCR Challenge Cup, was not specified, but there definitely seems to have been positive movement behind the scenes to insert SA franchises into one or either of those competitions at the start of next season.
There has been speculation from the onset that this would be the case, especially regarding SA franchises playing in the Heineken Cup - the Championship Cup - but as of yet SA Rugby has yet to officially confirm participation.
“Obviously, Ivan (van Rooyen) is heading up (United Rugby Championship) and EPRC (squads), which we did not play in this year. In the next cycle of rugby we will be playing in the EPRC,” said Straeuli on Tuesday, while explaining how the Lions will tackle 2022, which is jam-packed with fixtures and tournaments.
“This period of pre-season won’t be there come this time next year, so this is the last time we will have a two-or-three-week break. Mziwakhe Nkosi will be heading up our Currie Cup, so players might be playing in the Currie Cup and other players will be playing URC, so we are focusing on two different squads at the moment.”
When asked for confirmation on Wednesday morning regarding SA team's participation in Europe's premier rugby tournaments, the union validated Straeuli's statement with a positive response.
Moreover, Straeuli also revealed that the Currie Cup might start as early as January. There have been whispers and murmurs in recent weeks of such a move and that three tournaments – the URC, Currie Cup and SA Rugby Under-21 Provincial Championship – will run concurrently The former Springbok explained that the decision will be finalised early next month.
“Obviously,” said Straeuli, “our competitions have to be rubber stamped on the 10th at an AGM in December.
“There are talks about the Currie Cup now starting in January but we haven’t seen a fixture list yet and then also junior rugby. (Nkosi) will head up our Currie Cup and junior rugby but we will have different coaches available to assist with the junior games.
“We are not sure about single or double rounds there (in the junior provincial tournament), so at the moment Mziwakhe will head up Currie Cup and junior development rugby …
As you see, the calendar is going to be full next year.”
Currently, the URC structure acts as qualifiers for both the Championship Cup and the Challenge Cup. Pool winners from Ireland, Italy and Scotland, Wales and South Africa were planned to automatically qualify for the top tier tournament, while the next best placed four teams in the combined standings will also qualify.