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What's Coming To FloRugby In January?

What's Coming To FloRugby In January?

Here's what's coming to FloRugby in January 2023: Top 14, URC, EPCR, Heineken Champions Cup, and Currie Cup.

Jan 12, 2023 by Briar Napier
What's Coming To FloRugby In January?

Between all the competitions and trophies across the world, new or budding fans of the sport may not know where to start. However, guides about how each league or tournament operates can go a long way - and that's where FloRugby is here to help - because there's going to be a lot going on in the rugby world very, very soon.

In fact, a lot of the club rugby scene is going to heat up in January. Therefore, it's best to get up to speed now - or risk falling behind and getting lost in the shuffle once again.

Here's a look at what's coming to FloRugby in January, with club and international rugby being streamed live. And, don't forget, the 2023 Rugby World Cup is on the horizon, too.

Top 14

Country: France

The lowdown: Over 130 years of history is stuffed into France's top rugby competition, which has produced a record 10 European Rugby Champions Cup winners and has featured some of the finest players to ever grace a rugby pitch. 

As the league name states, the country's 14 best club rugby sides tussle in a 26-round gauntlet of a competition that lasts from early September to a mid-June final, for what is considered one of (if not the biggest) prizes in the French domestic game and the world. 

Powerhouse club Stade Toulousain, more commonly known as simply Toulouse, has won the competition a record 21 times, and as of Wednesday, leads the league table with 49 points through 15 games. 

However, the French rugby scene as of late has been known for emerging clubs coming from essentially out of nowhere to rack up silverware - defending Top 14 champion Montpellier finally won its first crown a year ago, after having previously lost in two different finals, while Stade Rochelais (known as La Rochelle) won the Champions Cup last season to nab the first major piece of domestic or continental hardware in its history. La Rochelle finished as the Top 14 runner-up in 2020-2021. 

Other teams in the title race at the moment include Paris' Stade Francais (second place) - whose 14 Top 14 wins rank second behind their southern France rivals - and Bordeaux Begles (fourth), which hasn't won the competition since 2006, when its two parent clubs (Stade Bordelais and Bordeaux-Begles Gironde) merged to form the current iteration. 

United Rugby Championship

Countries: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, Italy

The lowdown: The newest competition on this list, the URC has been around in some form since 2001 - the Celtic League formed a few years after the professionalization of rugby across the globe - but has since evolved into one of the world's most wide-ranging rugby competitions, taking its current name and growing to a 16-team league in 2021. 

Irish and Scottish sides have been around since the very beginning (with Wales joining two years later), but expansion outside the British Isles began in 2010 with the addition of Italy's Benetton. Teams from outside the European continent were added in 2017, with the plucking of South African teams. Four new clubs from the home of the reigning world champions joined for the 2021 season. 

Those same South African teams hit the ground running, with Cape Town's Stormers beating Pretoria's Bulls in last season's URC final to mark the first league championship awarded to a team outside of Europe. 

Still, league-leading Leinster, which is in the midst of a 12-0 campaign and is seeking an unbeaten run to the title, is an eight-time champion of the URC for a reason - the team is one of the best squads in club rugby today. The roster features heavily for the world's No. 1-ranked Irish national team. 

Also, American football fans will find it easy to understand the shield system that was implemented beginning with the 2021-2022 season. It brings together pools of Irish, Scottish/Italian, South African and Welsh clubs in a separate side competition, where the winner is guaranteed a place in the Champions Cup - similar to NFL division winners being guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

Currie Cup

Country: South Africa

The lowdown: Want a history lesson with your rugby? Look no further than the Currie Cup, South Africa's domestic club competition that's rich with tradition and heritage all the way back to the inaugural edition in 1892, seeing countless legends of the South African game dazzle for the most prestigious trophy in the rugby-mad country. 

The competition is a two-leveled system that has teams separated into the top-tier Premier Division, which for 2023 will start in January and begin hosting eight teams instead of seven like in 2022. 

That eighth team will be the Griffons, who won the second-tier First Division (first formed in 2000) and the right to be promoted to the Premier Division for the 2023 season, of which the yearly winner is considered the Currie Cup champion. 

The competition has been dominated throughout nearly its entire history by South Africa's "Big Five" of rugby unions. Western Province (34 titles), Blue Bulls (25), Golden Lions (11), Sharks (eight) and Free State Cheetahs (six) have won a vast majority of the championships, and entering last season, the last team outside of that exclusive company to claim the title was the Griquas in 1970. 

However, that emphatically changed a year ago, as the Pumas, hailing from the northeastern city of Mbombela, shocked the country's rugby scene by beating the Cheetahs and the Griquas in the playoffs to obtain their first Currie Cup title and complete one of the most shocking runs in the trophy's history. 

Heineken Champions Cup

Countries: England, France, Ireland, South Africa, Scotland, Wales

The lowdown: There is no greater prize in European club rugby than the Champions Cup, an annual cutthroat competition that combines the best of the best clubs from England's Premiership Rugby, the Top 14 and the URC, and throws them all into a pool stage-turned-knockout round format over the course of several months. 

Soccer fans will see many parallels to the ultra-popular UEFA Champions League competition, with the Champions Cup essentially being rugby's version of it. 

The tournament was exclusively limited to qualifying clubs from England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales (with the exception of Romania for its first season) for much of its existence, which dates back to the inaugural 1995-1996 campaign. Things changed beginning this season, when South African clubs became eligible to qualify for the Champions Cup for the first time due to their participation in the URC. 

Right now, the four-match pool stage is halfway done, with defending champion La Rochelle sitting atop Pool B at nine points with a +41 point differential, though Irish powerhouse Leinster leads the line overall in Pool A at 10 points and a +89 point differential. 

The real fun begins when the 16-team knockout rounds kick off in April. That will start a sprint to the finish - the Champions Cup final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on May 20 - a game Toulouse has won five times, the most of any team. 

European Rugby Challenge Cup

Countries: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales, South Africa

The lowdown: If the Champions Cup is club rugby's equivalent to the Champions League, consider the Challenge Cup the equivalent to the Europa League. 

Officially a "second-tier" competition, numerous clubs have had success in the Challenge Cup and gone on to subsequently post epic runs (even winning) the Champions Cup. The yearly winner of the Challenge Cup gets a berth in the Champions Cup, if it doesn't automatically qualify for the competition through domestic play. 

On a near-identical calendar to the Champions Cup (with the final even being held at the same location), 12 of the competition's 18 teams will make it out of the pool stage, where they're joined by the ninth- and 10th-placed teams from the two Champions Cup pools, creating a Round of 16 and knockout rounds from then on out. 

Also like in the Champions Cup, South African teams are participating in the Challenge Cup for the first time this season, with both the Lions (who qualified through the URC) and the Cheetahs (who were invited) currently in position to advance out of Pool B following the first two match weeks. 

Lyon won last year's title by beating Toulon in an all-French final in front of over 51,000 fans at the Stade de Marseille, though Cardiff has blasted through the rest of the competition thus far, logging 10 points and a league-best +78 point differential and 14 tries scored through two matches. 

English clubs have won more Challenge Cups (12) than any other country, but its clubs' spots in this year's tournament got knocked down from five to three, after two teams that qualified (Wasps and Worcester Warriors) entered administration before the competition started, suspending them from playing.