SA teams' travel times reduced as URC confirms 2023/24 fixtures

SA teams' travel times reduced as URC confirms 2023/24 fixtures

The United Rugby Championship has released its fixtures for the 2023/24 season, with South African teams set to receive some welcome relief from their hectic traveling schedules.

The fixtures are being released over three months before the start of the competition in late October, providing teams and fans with greater time to plan for the season ahead.

The season will kick off on Saturday, 21 October when reigning champions Munster begin their title defence against the Sharks at Thomond Park, one of six fixtures on the opening day.

The first fixture of the regular season's 144 games will come from Italy when Ulster travel to face Zebre Parma, before Connacht host Ospreys at the same time that the Lions and Stormers contest the first derby of the year at Ellis Park.

In a new approach aimed at reducing long-haul travel across the league, the South African teams will tour twice rather than three times. This means a four-match tour to Europe in the early part of the season followed by a two-game tour after the Six Nations (a balance of two three-game tours will be implemented if future calendars allow for it).

Additionally, thanks to the early release of fixtures, all teams will have improved access to different seat classes and cost efficiencies related to bookings made further in advance.

The opening weekends of the URC will see games played across Saturday and Sunday afternoons to avoid clashes with Rugby World Cup fixtures on Friday and Saturday nights.

With no November Test series break, URC teams will take on a schedule of 11 consecutive weekends of rugby (including EPCR) so January will also provide two relief weekends for teams to take a breather.

United Rugby Championship CEO Martin Anayi said: "The fixture list is the central pillar to the operation of our league and teams and providing certainty to fans, clubs and broadcasters earlier than ever will have a positive impact.

"Providing a set of fixtures that aims to balance kick-off times which encourage attendance and deliver big broadcast while factoring in the travel necessary to compete in the Vodacom URC is a monumental task that cannot be underestimated.

"Each year we feel we are learning more and more about how to refine and improve our process and the final fixture list itself and I must express great gratitude to our broadcast partners who have supported so many requests from the league and our clubs. To deliver this fixture list 102 days ahead of kick-off is unprecedented for our league and gives us another target to beat again next year."