Connacht head coach Andy Friend has aired his disgruntlement with the United Rugby Championship’s format.
The newly-named URC kicks off this week, and with the introduction of the four South African sides that used to ply their trade in Super Rugby, excitement is building for the tournament.
Reactions to the URC have been largely positive as the incoming South African teams should prove to make the competition more competitive, but Connacht coach Friend is unhappy with one aspect of the tournament’s format.
Friend was speaking to RTE and argued that the system which sees one side from each conference qualify for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup is “unfair”.
Andy Friend on the URC’s format.
“If what we had last year where the top four teams were the four Irish provinces, to me it’s a bit unfair that they’re not the ones who are going to be representing in the Champions Cup,” Friend said.
“But anyway the decisions have been made, we just have to make sure we aren’t the fourth team.”
While it is technically possible for all four Irish sides to secure qualification for next season’s Champions Cup, the new format does make is less likely to happen.
As one side from each of the four conferences will qualify, the three Irish provinces that don’t top their conference will need to finish ahead of all but one of the remaining sides in the league who similarly didn’t win their conference, if all four wish to play in next season’s Champions Cup.
Here’s what the 4 Irish Shield team captains said ahead of the #URC Season 1 kick-off 👇
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) September 16, 2021
Irish dominance of the league could be set to come to an end.
The Irish provinces have been far more successful than their Welsh, Scottish and Italian counterparts in the history of the league, having won 13 of the 20 titles on offer to date.
The four provinces were particularly impressive last season, as Leinster and Ulster topped Conference A, while Munster and Connacht topped Conference B.
The incoming South African sides may seriously disrupt the Irish provinces’ domination of the league however, with plenty of World Cup-winning Springboks set to play in the URC.
Last year’s finalists Leinster and Munster will welcome South Africa’s strongest sides – the Bulls and the Sharks – in what promises to be an intriguing first round of the URC.