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The United Rugby Championship have confirmed that the four shields they have set up, including the Irish Shield, will have silverware for the winners and a guaranteed Heineken Champions Cup spot.
The four shields are the; Irish Shield: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster; South African Shield: Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers; Welsh Shield: Cardiff Rugby, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets and; Italian & Scottish Shield: Benetton, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre.
The Shields will crown regional champions and there will be an on-field presentation of the trophy at the end of the season.
A URC statement says: “A tremendous value is placed on the rivalries within the Shield groups by fans, players, coaches and broadcasters and with a European place available to each winner, the value of overcoming your ‘Shield’ opponents now has more rewards than ever.”
The four Irish provinces previously took part in an Interprovincial competition from 1946/47 to 2000/01 before the Celtic League was formed – now the United Rugby Championship.
The women’s teams compete in an interprovincial championship annually but do not take part in domestic leagues.
The shield fixtures retain home and away derby games and will count for six of the 18 games played by each team in the season.
Points in all 18 games will go towards the pool standings.
Qualification for the Champions Cup will be split between placings in the league table and regional pools.
Regional pool (shield) winners will qualify automatically and then be removed from the final league table.
The four highest-placed sides that did not win their regional shields will also qualify and seeding for the draw will be based on the clubs’ position on the league table.
Subject to the finalisation of contract terms with EPCR, South African clubs will be eligible to qualify for EPCR competitions that are played from 2022/23.