URC explore women's and U23 competitions but no plans for second division

CEO Martin Anayi said they would like to launch the women’s league ‘sooner rather than later.’

The URC logo.
The URC logo.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

URC CEO MARTIN Anayi says the organisation is discussing the possibility of launching women’s and U23 versions of the competition.

However, Anayi also said that there are no plans in place for a United Rugby Championship [URC] second division involving the likes of the Cheetahs of South Africa and other European teams, despite recent reports suggesting there might be.

Speaking on a media call this afternoon, Anayi confirmed that initial discussions have taken place about a women’s version of the URC.

“I was speaking about that to stakeholders yesterday,” said Anayi. “Over half of our employees are women and we asked them what they wanted and a competition for women was in the top three answers from everyone.

“It’s not the market, it just feels like we should have a women’s competition. We’re only a competition organiser so we asked the unions because they pay the players. And we have seen what they have done in England with the Premier 15s.

“And we’ve spoken to World Rugby because they have a competition coming on stream [WXV, which launches next year] and Ben Morel in the Women’s Six Nations.

“And we feel the URC can play a part in the Women’s Six Nations getting stronger. We want to be a part of that. Is it 16 teams? Do we get it going sooner rather than later? Yes, we should.

“We do have women’s teams in Ireland but it’s hit and miss elsewhere. There is a will but the unions must be involved and we’re exploring how that comes about.”

Anayi also confirmed that some discussions have taken place about a possible men’s U23 or ‘Next Generation’ version of the URC.

The change in format ahead of this season saw a shift to keep URC games from clashing with international rugby.

While Covid-19 postponements meant there was actually some overlap during this campaign, the URC plans for future seasons to be played without any such double-ups, ensuring the best players feature for their provinces and clubs as often as possible.

martin-anayi URC CEO Martin Anayi. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There are also now fewer regular-season URC games, meaning that young players and fringe squad members have fewer chances to get game time.

Anayi said the URC is exploring the possibility of remedying that issue with a new competition.

“When we revised the format, it came out that it had been great that there were development pathway elements to the season [in the previous format], four to six games a season to bring players through,” said Anayi. “They could come through quickly if they were Jordan Larmour and so on.

“One of the things about not playing on international weekends is that we don’t have that pathway. We have been asked to look at an ‘A’ team league or a Next Generation competition that might fit that role. It might be four to six weekends a year potentially within those international windows, so we’re looking at that.

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“A little like the women’s competition, there are different requirements in each territory. Part of the economics of our clubs is that they have reduced their squads because they don’t have to play on international weekends, so they’d have to hire back up again which would be counter-productive.

“So I think it would have to be a development U23 type of competition for it to really work. That’s something we’re looking at now.”

However, there are no plans in place for a second division of the men’s URC, bringing in more clubs beyond the current 16 and creating a promotion/relegation dynamic.

Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie recently suggested that the URC was looking to create a ‘B division’ of the league, but Anayi shot that down.

“No, it’s not on the cards,” he said. “We’ve got a job on our hands to make sure the URC is as good as it can be and we’re getting there, for sure. So it’s not for the present.

“We do love the Cheetahs, they’re a big part of our history, so if we can help them in any way to find a competition that does work, you can rest assured we would do that.

“But there are no plans for a URC 2 at the moment.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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