Following confirmation of the inclusion of clubs from South Africa in the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup for the 2022/23 season and beyond, Europe’s three main professional leagues have expressed their approval of the historic expansion of EPCR’s tournaments.

The Cape Town-based Stormers, the Bulls from Pretoria and the Durban-based Sharks will compete in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup, while the Lions from Johannesburg will fly the flag for South Africa in the EPCR Challenge Cup.

In addition to the four qualifiers from the United Rugby Championship, the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs have been invited to participate in the 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup.

Commenting on the major development for the club game in both the northern and southern hemispheres, United Rugby Championship Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Martin Anayi, said: “The entry of the South African clubs to the URC has revitalised our league, created new rivalries and driven up the levels of competition.

“It is mouthwatering to see the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks all involved in our Play-Offs and their presence is making a major impact on broadcast audiences and fan engagement. Adding the opportunity for these clubs, as well as for the Cheetahs, to compete in EPCR’s competitions will only strengthen what are two of the world’s elite club rugby competitions.”

Premiership Rugby Chief Executive and EPCR Board member, Simon Massie-Taylor, added: Simon Massie-Taylor, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby said: “It is very exciting to have these four South African sides joining the EPCR tournaments. Their inclusion will take the competitions to a new level of intensity for the players and enjoyment for the fans.

“Our Gallagher Premiership Rugby clubs are looking forward to playing some of the best the Southern Hemisphere has to offer and matching up against players from the Rugby World Cup 2019 winning side.

“It is a big step forward in expanding the reach of these unique and special tournaments, and bringing world-class, international club rugby to new audiences.”

Ligue Nationale de Rugby Director General and EPCR Board member, Emmanuel Eschalier, said: “The arrival next season of the four South African clubs competing in the URC, as well as the Cheetahs, is a major development for EPCR’s competitions.

“The participation of these high-level clubs will strengthen the appeal and sporting intensity of the Heineken Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup with the potential for further development of these great competitions.”

The South African clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup will be in the mix against newly-crowned winners, Stade Rochelais, who lifted the trophy for the first time in dramatic style in Marseille last weekend, as well as Lyon who also claimed a historic first European title when they won the EPCR Challenge Cup final.

EPCR welcomed more than 110,000 fans to the Stade Vélodrome over the course of the two finals with a record EPCR Challenge Cup attendance of 51,431 witnessing Lyon’s victory over RC Toulon, while 59,682 went through the turnstiles for last Saturday’s showpiece match between Stade Rochelais and Leinster.

The formats for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will be announced shortly, in conjunction with details of the Pool Draws for both tournaments which will be staged towards the end of the month.

During the 2022/23 season, EPCR will continue to be supported by Heineken as the title partner of the Heineken Champions Cup, as well as by EPCR’s Official Logistics Partner DHL and Official Hotels Partner IHG Hotels & Resorts amongst others, with future exciting partner announcements expected in the near future.

The 2023 Finals weekend is scheduled for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 May.