London (AFP)

After the Celtic League, the Pro 12 and the Pro 14, place at the "United Rugby Championship" (URC) which starts on Friday, with four South African clubs who will compete against the Irish, Welsh, Scots and Italians for places in the European Cup for next season.

Champions for the 4th year in a row of a Pro 14 which finally took place at 12 last year - the Covid pandemic having prevented the two teams from the Southern hemisphere already present from traveling - the Leinster brings into play its crown in an adapted and innovative formula.

The 16 teams will be divided into four "regional" pools: the four Irish (Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Ulster), the four Welsh (Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons, Cardiff Blues), the four South Africans (Bulls, Stormers, Sharks , Lions) and the Scottish and Italian (Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre).

In each group, the teams will meet in two-way matches, i.e. six matches, to which is added one meeting against each of the other 12 teams (six at home, six away).

At the end of the 18 matches, the leader of each group will qualify for the European Rugby Cup the following season, which therefore guarantees at least one South African representative for the 2022/2023 season, a great first.

The other four tickets for the main continental competition will be allocated to the four best-ranked teams in the general classification of the 16 teams that did not finish leader in their pool.

This will make it almost impossible for a nation to dominate, with Ireland, for example, sending their four teams into the main continental competition this season.

The first eight teams in the general classification will also play a final phase with quarters (1st against 8th, 2nd against 7th, etc ...), semi-finals and a final in a dry match.

- Fewer matches -

Finding the right formula for this competition also required limiting costly and always random round trips during a pandemic.

The South African teams will play four of their six trips to Europe in the first four days, while the Europeans will play their two matches in South Africa back to back.

For the 12 matches outside their pools, the host and visiting teams will alternate from one season to the next.

This system will have the virtuous consequence of limiting to 21 the maximum number of matches played by a team, against 23 for the Pro 14, avoiding any duplication with the selection calendar.

South African Sharks hooker Kerron van Vuuren tags Jamie George from the Lions during the South Africa tour on July 10, 2021 in Pretoria PHILL MAGAKOE AFP / Archives

"We have sometimes made fun of the Pro 14 since its inception and probably not without reason. But I think we are getting closer to the right format," said former Irish international hooker Bernard Jackman, on the podcast "Game On "from Irish radio station RTE.

"This will make the championship more competitive," he said.

Answer this weekend with Munster-Sharks, Leinster-Bulls or Ulster-Glasgow.

© 2021 AFP