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United Rugby Championship: Dates, teams, history & more

The United Rugby Championship is an annual competition that involves clubs teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales.

It is the highest level of competition in those countries and the third major professional league in Europe alongside the English Premiership and the French Top 14.

Its most successful teams can compete in the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, and South African teams have been eligible to qualify for these competitions since the 2022-23 season.

One place for a South African team is guaranteed for the Champions Cup each season.

United Rugby Championship dates

The URC season usually runs from September to May, but the competition started later this year on 21st October due to the Rugby World Cup in France.

Each team will play 18 regular-season matches with the final round of games set to start on Friday 31st May.

The quarter-finals will be held on Friday 7th June and Saturday 8th June, with the semi-finals both due to take place on Saturday 15th June.

The Grand Final will be held on Saturday 22nd June.

United Rugby Championship venues

The 2023-24 season will be played at the following venues:

  • Ireland: Galway Sportsgrounds; RDS Arena, Dublin; Aviva Stadium, Dublin; Thomond Park, Limerick; Musgrove Park, Cork; Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast
  • Italy: Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso; Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
  • Scotland: Edinburgh Rugby Stadium; Murrayfield, Edinburgh; Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
  • South Africa: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria; Ellis Park, Johannesburg; Kings Park Stadium Durban; Cape Town Stadium; Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
  • Wales: Cardiff Arms Park; Rodney Parade, Newport; Stadium; Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli

How to watch the United Rugby Championship

The United Rugby Championship is available to watch on Viaplay Sports, while selected games are also televised on BBC Wales, S4C (Welsh language) and BBC Northern Ireland.

United Rugby Championship format

Each team plays 18 regular-season matches hoping to qualify for the playoffs, which consist of quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final.

There are four regional pools: the Irish pool (consisting of the four Irish teams), a Welsh pool (the four Welsh teams), a South African pool (the four South African teams) and the Scottish & Italian pool (the two Scottish teams and the two Italian teams).

A Regional trophy is awarded for each pool winner but they have no bearing on European Champions Cup qualification, which will go to the top eight teams in the Championship table.

Each team plays their three pool rivals twice, once at home and once away. They play each of 12 teams in the other pools once either at home or away.

The top eight teams then go through to the quarter-finals, with those seeded one to four gaining home advantage.

The winners will then go through to the semi-finals and subsequently the Grand Final, which will be hosted by the highest-seeded team.

United Rugby Championship history

The league started life as the Welsh-Scottish League in 1999 and became known as the Celtic League once Irish teams were invited to take part.

It was then expanded to 12 teams from ten in 2010 when two Italian teams were introduced and the Pro12 was born.

It became the Pro14 when the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings came in from South Africa after being axed by Super Rugby,

Subsequently, the Kings were liquidated and the Cheetahs withdrew, but four South African teams - the Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Bulls - entered the competition in 2021.

Irish side Leinster have finished top of the Championship for each of the last four seasons, but have failed to reach the last two Grand Finals.

They have won the Championship eight times and last year’s victors Munster claimed their fourth triumph when they beat holders Stormers in the Grand Final in Cape Town.

Ospreys have also won the title four times, fellow Welsh side Llanelli have triumphed twice, while there have been single successes for the Stormers, Ulsters, Glasgow Warriors and Connacht.

United Rugby Championship teams

There are 16 teams who play in the United Rugby Championship:

  • Ireland - Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster
  • Italy - Benetton, Zebre Parma
  • Scotland - Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors
  • South Africa - Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers
  • Wales - Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets

United Rugby Championship as it stands

Each team has played three of their 18 United Rugby Championship games and Connacht are the only team with a 100% record with wins over Ospreys, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster, all of which have taken place at the Galway Sportsgrounds.

Reigning champions Munster, who are 11/2 to be celebrating again in June, are the only other unbeaten team.

They beat Sharks in their opener before being held to a 13-13 draw by Benetton in Treviso. They got over that in style though with a 45-14 home win over Dragons.

Last year’s table-toppers Leinster, who are 4/7 to win the Grand Final, recovered from an opening 43-25 defeat at the Warriors by beating the Sharks and Edinburgh.

Zebre Parma, Lions, Dragons and Sharks have all lost their opening three matches.

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