EPCR defends its choice to include South African teams in European Rugby Cups

The governing body of European Rugby (EPCR) announced on Thursday the integration of five South African clubs into the Champions Cup and European Challenge. EPCR Director General Anthony Lepage explained to RMC Sport the reasons for this big change for continental competitions.

For some, there will be five South African teams competing in the Champions Cup and in the European Challenge of the 2022-2023 season. Faced with the growing misunderstanding and the appearance of the first criticisms, especially on social networks, the EPCR will have to do some explanatory work to convince its opponents. Questioned this Thursday by RMC Sport, Frenchman Anthony Lepage justified the decision of continental rugby’s governing body.

“We just made the agreements. We haven’t even talked about it for weeks or months, but for many years. These are South African clubs so it’s not trivial and that’s why it took a long time. We had to think about all aspects “This is the perfect window to integrate them, the EPCR DG estimated in the wake of the announcements. Is it no longer the European Cup? Yes, it is true that we can understand it in that sense when we talk about the European Cup.” But for the English it has also been the European Cup I since Brexit? That also applies to the Russians who played the Cup of Europe. “

‘No debate about oriental teams in football’

In parallel with the conclusion of this agreement with the five African teams called up to play in Europe (three in the Champions Cup: the Cape Stormers, the Pretoria Bulls and the Durban Sharks; two in the Challenge: the Johannesburg Lions and the Cheetahs van Bloemfontein), the EPCR wanted to confirm that this would not give rise to a new revolution in the design of its competitions. The European Cup will remain with 24 teams and unless there is a surprise, the trend is also not to change names for “the fairly strong brands” such as the Champions Cup and the Challenge. Despite the logistical efforts that have to be made, according to the manager contacted by RMC Sport, everything is in place for a great success.

“Upstream, without even talking about South African clubs, there is already the integration of countries from an expanded Europe. South Africans are certainly not part of Europe, but they are on the same meridian, on the same time slot, so it’s easier chained Anthony Lepage Admittedly there are slightly longer rides but in terms of live atmosphere it works very well because when it’s 8pm in France it’s 8pm there too There is no topic at this level With the European term you have to be a little more open. Especially because we’ve been that in the past and not just in rugby. In football, in the Champions League, there is no discussion about teams from the East.”

Europe opens up to Africa

The French and English clubs in particular have been benefiting for years from the reinforcements of South African stars. Especially in the Top 14, Cheslin Kolbe is one of the stars of the championship. Recent Champions Cup winner La Rochelle could also count on the hard work of his South African duo of Raymond Rhule and Dillyn Leyds.

“We have to innovate and rethink the formats, raise the level again and condense it. That the world champions have no international club competition is an anomaly. Especially because we have excellent ambassadors in the French and English championships. Great players who represent the culture of their country good, continued Anthony Delage. […] South Africa is a people born for rugby and we will all discover it. It fits so well with the rugby spirit and I think it will be a pleasant surprise for everyone.”

And the leader of the EPCR to ignite for the experience of the trip to South Africa: “It will be a long journey but above all an experience for the clubs to grow them. For the partners, for the players… what an adventure to play in South Africa. It’s also new ground for the fans, new stadiums to see, new audiences. There will be excitement around that, although there will also be fear. It’s normal, it’s a new thing and there are priorities.”

Lepage happy with an “investment” for the future

By integrating several South African franchises, the EPCR hopes that the clubs can benefit from this thanks to increased international exposure. The same financially with higher income thanks to the arrival of a new local broadcaster.

“We will say it is an investment. Yes, there are necessarily implications as we are going to enter new territory. But there are also indirect effects. For example, clubs want international exposure, but today we remain at European level, so this requires an extension and this will help them through partnerships or the local broadcaster that we will be announcing shortly, explains Anthony Lepage.All of this will bring a new dimension to European rugby.With the meridian, we can remember that we are hitting all of Africa, not just the South . It’s important for the development of rugby.”

And the general manager concluded by opening the door to other additions in the future: “We can imagine all knowing that we are working on other projects, such as that of a Club World Cup every four years. There we will see the South Welcome Africans already. We will try to do it right. Let’s go step by step.”

JGL with Jean-Francois Paturaud