The Vodacom United Rugby Championship kicks off on 24 September – when the Emirates Lions take on Zebre in Parma, Italy – as north and south collide in what promises to be an intriguing and spectacular new global rugby competition.
Vodacom continue their long association with top-flight franchise rugby in a new-look competition that will feature 16 teams from five countries, battling it out over 144 matches to reach the eight-team play-offs in a season that will extend over eight months until the final in June.
“The United Rugby Championship heralds an exciting new era for South African rugby that will bring us closer to our friends in the northern hemisphere, and we’re delighted to confirm our long-standing partner, Vodacom, as the title sponsor in the southern hemisphere,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby.
“This is an exciting new venture and promises to deliver international club rugby of the highest standard that will benefit South African rugby in the long run and it was typical of Vodacom’s vision that they didn’t hesitate in taking the opportunity to partner with us.
“We've been exposed to club rugby from the north for a while now, but the Vodacom United Rugby Championship is a bold step into a brand-new era of franchise rugby for South Africa, in a competition that will reshape the global game.
“The possibilities for the future reflect a gear shift for rugby in South Africa as well as on the north-south axis. As we've seen with the recent British & Irish Lions tour, our teams will be facing some of the best players in the world, testing their skills against some of the strongest club sides and going toe-to-toe with master tacticians on a weekly basis.”
Michelle van Eyden, Head of Sponsorship at Vodacom, said: “Since 1996, when our involvement with Vodacom Super Rugby began, top-flight rugby featuring the best teams with the world’s best players has been ingrained into Vodacom’s DNA.
“As world rugby moved from the amateur to professional era and then into a time of incredible global growth, Vodacom has supported the game’s journey at every step.
“The Vodacom United Rugby Championship is yet another evolution of our proud association with the very best that rugby has to offer, and we look forward to again providing the platform upon which a new era of north-south competition can set a new benchmark in excellence for the game.”
Vodacom announced it would also be using the partnership to promote its support of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS).
“We’re taking this further with the ‘Our Blood is RED’ campaign,” said Van Eyden.
“We’ll be hosting ‘Our Blood is RED’ experiences at each of the South African stadiums during the local Vodacom United Rugby Championship matches for fans to get involved and to drive blood donations.”
The new Vodacom United Rugby Championship will be divided into four pools – a South African Pool, Irish Pool (Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht), Welsh Pool (Ospreys, Cardiff, Scarlets, Dragons) and Scotland-Italy Pool (Benetton, Edinburgh, Zebre, Glasgow).
Each team will play 18 regular season games – nine at home and nine away – and all the sides will face each other at least once during the league phase of the competition, which will include double-rounds of local derbies before the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
Martin Anayi, CEO of United Rugby Championship, said: “We have the best European clubs in our league, and they as well as their fans are all very aware that we’re now bringing in the South African teams that basically feed the world champion Springboks.
“They will be bringing their own brand of big players, strong runner and high-intensity rugby and there is tremendous excitement about that.
“We have a team like Leinster who have been European champions so many times, and they were foremost in campaigning for the South African teams to join so that it can challenge them and continue to raise the overall standard.”
SuperSport will broadcast all 144 league matches as well as seven finals matches live, with games played simultaneously scheduled on different channels – either SS Rugby, SS Action or SS Variety 2, ensuring a broad range of coverage.
In addition, SuperSport will have a multi-platform offering with streaming on the DStv app and website to ensure sweeping coverage of all eight games per round of the regular season.
“We have chosen ‘It’s a different league’ as our tagline, which is indeed the case,” said Marc Jury, CEO of SuperSport.
“Adding the Vodacom United Rugby Championship to our broadcast portfolio is a huge statement of intent that reflects our belief in the vibrancy and growth of this event. Our coverage will have the same high standards of production that we see across all SuperSport rugby properties and we’ll have a variety of pundits and experts to ensure the best viewing experience.”
Among the optional new broadcast innovations are pencil cameras in coaches boxes, cameras behind kickers and body cams on water carriers, all offering a different perspective.
Anayi added that Vodacom’s longstanding support of South African rugby would be critical to the growth of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
“We want to unite people around rugby like never before and create a version of the game that is inclusive – a game for all,” he said.
“And for this it’s wonderful to have a brand of Vodacom’s standing involved. Vodacom has a strong rugby heritage in South Africa, and it’s made it very easy for us because we don’t have to tell rugby fans in the North about the South African teams.
“They know them well from having watched decades of Vodacom Super Rugby on their televisions. Add in the Springboks’ success in the Rugby World Cup and the recent British & Irish Lions Tour and there is a lot of excitement building. So, Vodacom brings so much to the league and our ability to build the awareness and momentum.”
Marion Vermeulen, SANBS Acting Chief Marketing Officer said: “The SANBS is excited about our partnership with Vodacom during the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, which promises to drive support in numbers from the loyal rugby community.
“Sport remains one of the most established spaces where you find people from across different walks of life coming together to support a shared ambition. We embrace this opportunity and hope to see supporters backing their respective teams, and the greater South African community, by donating blood and contributing towards a collective win through saving lives.”
It’s a bold new era for rugby that will hit South African televisions with an equally bold and exciting broadcast offering from SuperSport.