United Rugby Championship: New league unveils inaugural fixture list

The United Rugby Championship - how the revamped competition will work

The new United Rugby Championship (URC) has unveiled its inaugural fixture list and will kick-off on 24 September.

The Pro14 has rebranded with South Africa's four top teams joining the competition for the 2021-22 campaign.

Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls will play alongside the 12 existing sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a 16-team league.

The South African sides start the season in Europe with opening games in Italy and Republic of Ireland.

To accommodate the latest travel conditions across the URC's competing territories the provisional fixtures had to be readjusted with the South African teams completing four-week tours of Europe.

Sides from the northern hemisphere will play two away games in South Africa each season, with these games being played back-to-back.

Italian side Zebre have the honour of hosting the opening game when they play Lions at 17:35 BST, while Ulster v Glasgow and Cardiff v Connacht are the later fixtures on that Friday.

Benetton, Leinster and Munster all start at home against South African opposition the following day, with Edinburgh v Scarlets the other Saturday fixture, while round one ends on Sunday with a Welsh derby between Dragons and Ospreys.

The dates and times for the first 10 rounds of fixtures have been scheduled, with the final eight weeks of games to be confirmed.

There will be one division, with end of season play-offs. The season starts at the end of September 2021, with each team playing 18 regular season fixtures, while there will be a grand final in mid-June.

The top eight teams will reach the knock-out stages, with quarter-finals and semi-finals planned before that final in mid June.

There will also be four regional pools within the tournament with the quartet of Welsh regions, Irish provinces and South African sides each forming a nation-specific group, and the two Scotland and Italian sides linking up in the other.

All points won during the regular season will contribute to rankings in the regional pools and the highest-ranking team in each of the four pools will earn a place in the Champions Cup for the following season.

This means derbies have been maintained and teams will play each other at least once each season.

In Wales, the traditional Boxing Day derbies between Ospreys v Scarlets and Cardiff v Dragons have been changed to other local matches. Ospreys will now host Dragons and Cardiff entertain Scarlets on 26 December.

Judgement Day at the Principality Stadium, which involves a Welsh regional double-header with Cardiff v Ospreys and Dragons v Scarlets, is scheduled for weekend of April 22-24.

The South African derbies scheduled for rounds five, eight and nine will take place in February and March.

Each team will play home and away fixtures against their regional opponents, and 12 home or away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league. All sides are guaranteed nine home games.

The commitment to avoid clashing with international weekends means the original round six date has been moved to the final week in November which ensures every round of the tournament is played on a standalone weekend.

"We believe these fixtures will ensure the URC could deliver on its promise of a new era for our league where the very best from South Africa go head-to-head with our Celtic and Italian teams," said URC chief executive Martin Anayi.

"As we carefully manoeuvre out of the pandemic, the URC will take its place as one of the leading leagues in global rugby and this fixture list should ignite our competition.

"This schedule is the most complex we have ever produced and the efforts of every one of our stakeholders to help us piece it together in the current climate have been monumental.

"We now have a format that will heighten competition, showcase our clubs, elevate our athletes and bring great excitement to fans and TV audiences right across our territories and beyond."

United Rugby Championship: Fly through the home of Ulster Rugby with BBC Sport NI

Round one

Friday, 24 September

Zebre v Lions, 17:35 BST

Ulster v Glasgow, 19:35 BST

Cardiff v Connacht, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 25 September

Benetton v Stormers, 13:00 BST

Leinster v Bulls, 17:15 BST

Edinburgh v Scarlets, 17:15 BST

Munster v Sharks, 19:35 BST

Sunday, 26 September

Dragons v Ospreys, 14:00 BST

Round two

Friday, 1 October

Connacht v Bulls, 19:35 BST

Scarlets v Lions, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 2 October

Benetton v Edinburgh, 13:00 BST

Glasgow v Sharks, 15:00 BST

Zebre v Ulster, 17:15 BST

Ospreys v Cardiff, 19:35 BST

Munster v Stormers, 19:35 BST

Dragons v Leinster, tbc

Round three

Friday, 8 October

Ulster v Benetton, 19:35 BST

Ospreys v Sharks, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 9 October

Leinster v Zebre, 13:00 BST

Glasgow v Lions, 15:00 BST

Connacht v Dragons, 17:15 BST

Edinburgh v Stormers, 17:15 BST

Cardiff v Bulls, 19:35 BST

Sunday, 10 October

Scarlets v Munster, 14:00 BST

Round four

Friday, 15 October

Ulster v Lions, 19:35 BST

Dragons v Stormers, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 16 October

Zebre v Glasgow, 13:00 BST

Benetton v Ospreys, 15:00 BST

Leinster v Scarlets, 17:15 BST

Edinburgh v Bulls, 17:15 BST

Munster v Connacht, 19:35 BST

Cardiff v Sharks, 19:35 BST

Round five

Friday, 22 October

Scarlets v Benetton, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 23 October

Zebre v Edinburgh, 13:00 BST

Glasgow v Leinster, 15:00 BST

Cardiff v Dragons, 17:15 BST

Connacht v Ulster, 17:15 BST

Ospreys v Munster, 19:35 BST

Saturday, 5 February

Lions v Sharks

Stormers v Bulls

Round six

Friday, 26 November

Connacht v Ospreys, 19:35 GMT

Saturday, 27 November

Stormers v Zebre, 13:00 GMT

Benetton v Glasgow, 13:00 GMT

Sharks v Scarlets, 15:30 GMT

Dragons v Edinburgh, 17:15 GMT

Bulls v Munster, 17:45 GMT

Leinster v Ulster, 20:00 GMT

Sunday, 28 November

Lions v Cardiff, 14:00 GMT

Round seven

Friday, 3 December

Bulls v Scarlets, 17:35 GMT

Edinburgh v Benetton, 19:35 GMT

Leinster v Connacht, 19:45 GMT

Saturday, 4 December

Sharks v Zebre, 13:00 GMT

Ospreys v Ulster, 15:00 GMT

Lions v Munster, 15:30 GMT

Glasgow v Dragons, 17:15 GMT

Stormers v Cardiff, 17:45 GMT

Round eight

Friday, 24 December

Zebre v Benetton, 13:00 GMT

Sunday, 26 December

Cardiff v Scarlets, 15:00 GMT

Ulster v Connacht, 17:15 GMT

Ospreys v Dragons, 17:15 GMT

Munster v Leinster, 19:35 GMT

Monday, 27 December

Glasgow v Edinburgh, 19:00 GMT

Saturday, 12 February

Bulls v Sharks

Stormers v Lions

Round nine

Saturday, 1 January

Dragons v Cardiff, 15:00 GMT

Connacht v Munster, 17:15 GMT

Scarlets v Ospreys, 17:15 GMT

Ulster v Leinster, 19:35 GMT

Sunday, 2 January

Benetton v Zebre, 13:00 GMT

Edinburgh v Glasgow, 14:00 GMT

Saturday, 19 March

Lions v Bulls

Sharks v Stormers

Round 10

Friday, 7 January

Leinster v Lions, 19:35 GMT

Saturday, 8 January

Benetton v Sharks, 13:00 GMT

Zebre v Bulls, 15:00 GMT

Edinburgh v Cardiff, 15:00 GMT

Connacht v Stormers, 17:00 GMT

Glasgow v Ospreys, 17:15 GMT

Munster v Ulster, 19:35 GMT

Scarlets v Dragons, 19:35 GMT

Round 11

January 28/29/30

Connacht v Glasgow

Ulster v Scarlets

Cardiff v Leinster

Dragons v Benetton

Ospreys v Edinburgh

Bulls v Lions

Stormers v Sharks

Zebre v Munster

Round 12

February 18/19/20

Leinster v Ospreys

Munster v Edinburgh

Cardiff v Zebre

Dragons v Ulster

Scarlets v Connacht

Lions v Stormers

Sharks v Bulls

Glasgow v Benetton

Round 13

March 4/5/6

Munster v Dragons

Ulster v Cardiff

Scarlets v Glasgow

Ospreys v Zebre

Bulls v Stormers

Sharks v Lions

Edinburgh v Connacht

Benetton v Leinster

Round 14

March 25/26/27

Connacht v Leinster

Munster v Benetton

Cardiff v Glasgow

Bulls v Dragons

Lions v Ospreys

Sharks v Edinburgh

Stormers v Ulster

Zebre v Scarlets

Round 15

April 1/2/3

Leinster v Munster

Scarlets v Cardiff

Bulls v Ulster

Lions v Edinburgh

Sharks v Dragons

Stormers v Ospreys

Glasgow v Zebre

Benetton v Connacht

Round 16

April 22/23/24

Ulster v Munster

Cardiff v Ospreys

Dragons v Scarlets

Bulls v Benetton

Lions v Connacht

Sharks v Leinster

Stormers v Glasgow

Edinburgh v Zebre

Round 17

April 29/30

Munster v Cardiff

Ospreys v Scarlets

Bulls v Glasgow

Lions v Benetton

Sharks v Connacht

Stormers v Leinster

Edinburgh v Ulster

Zebre v Dragons

Round 18

May 20/21/22

Connacht v Zebre

Leinster v Edinburgh

Ulster v Sharks

Dragons v Lions

Scarlets v Stormers

Ospreys v Bulls

Glasgow v Munster

Benetton v Cardiff

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