Why South Africans haven’t taken to the Champions Cup after United Rugby Championship success

Dylan Coetzee
Leolin Zas on the charge for the Stormers in the Champions Cup.

Leolin Zas on the charge for the Stormers in the Champions Cup.

United Rugby Championship (URC) CEO Martin Anayi shared his thoughts on why there has been better uptake in the league compared to the Champions Cup.

Anayi was commenting during a URC round table where he revealed that the tournament has shown record growth yet again this season.

The chief, who also sits on the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) board, credited that growth to the South African involvement and suggested the Stormers winning the inaugural URC went a long way in pushing its popularity.

By contrast, the Champions Cup has drawn smaller crowds in South Africa and less overall interest from rugby fans in the Rainbow Nation during the first two seasons.

This has fed some concerns from the north over the viability of their involvement, with former Les Blues star Philippe Saint-Andre not mincing his words about the inclusion of the teams.

Must find a solution

Anayi feels that it is in EPCR’s best interests to search for buy-in and hopes the Sharks’ Challenge Cup title and subsequently qualification for the Champions Cup could aid the cause.

“We have noticed that South Africans have latched onto the URC ahead of the Champions Cup in terms of audience numbers and match day attendances, but that may be due to the success the country has already attained in the URC,” he said.

“The Stormers win in the first year, where they beat fellow South African team the Bulls in the final, and then making the final again last year where they lost to Munster, would have helped drive the interest and perhaps that success for SA teams transfers across from Super Rugby. I guess it is just a lot clearer.

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“Our job, because I am also on the board of the EPCR and the way it is set up is that the three leagues co-own the Champions Cup as shareholders, is to make it sell because it is in our interests for it to do so. Education is needed in SA on what the two competitions are. You never had that in Super Rugby (the commitment to two competitions).

“Hopefully the Sharks making it into the Champions Cup (by winning the Challenge Cup) will give it a bit more of a push. SA teams are becoming a lot more competitive in Europe, which is to be expected as they are getting used to it.

“It is new to them to play in three competitions, as they have the Currie Cup as well. There will become a greater awareness of EPCR in time.”

Shareholders in future

Anayi also confirmed that SA Rugby will become shareholders of EPCR in time.

“There is a pathway they are on and there is no reason to believe they won’t become full partners (by this time next year). They are effectively treated as full partners already,” said Anayi.

READ MORE: South Africa at the heart of record United Rugby Championship growth in 2023/2024 season