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'We all wanted this' | South Africa are improving the standards of the URC | Gerry Thornley

The URC is soon to become a South African-Irish carve up, which could actually be to the benefit of the Champions Cup and URC alike, according to Gerry Thornley.



The URC is soon to become a South African-Irish carve up, which could actually be to the benefit of the Champions Cup and URC alike, according to The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.

South African sides have only lost two matches against northern hemisphere opposition since the start of the URC. Only the Sharks and Lions have lost one match each on South African soil to non-South African sides.

Since the return of their front-line players from international duty, the teams from the southern hemisphere have improved greatly since their largely dismal tours of the north.

For Thornley, the current rise of the South African sides shows that they have indeed done what they came in to do: raise the standards of the former Celtic League.

Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, Thornley looked at the performances of the different clubs in the URC.

"I know it has been slightly distorted by the fact that they have the home and away fixtures against Zebre and Benetton, but the two Scottish regions are going quite well this season," Thornley said.

"They both look like they are going to get into the playoffs, they both outperformed the Welsh. There is talk in Wales about brining front liners home, increasing the budgets, and making the Welsh regions stronger again.

"I think it is going to have to force teams to pull up their socks. Otherwise, it will be an Irish-South African carve-up."

The improvement in the former Pro14 was desperately needed, and it has translated into viewership, if not only due to the added South African television viewers.

However, Thornley feels that the biggest improvement to the tournament is the quality of rugby.

"I do think the South African sides are going to get stronger and stronger, and it is going to get tough for Connacht to keep pace with them as well," Thornley said.

"It will up standards. We all wanted this. We forget that the Pro12 and the Pro14 wasn't rocking our boats, did it? It was almost too easy for Leinster to win it four years in a row.

"We can't have it every way. We want them to up standards, but to up standards it means that they have to be very good, which means that the are going to take some of the European places and the qualifying places.

"Maybe even a home tie in the knockout stages. That would be a very awkward tie for a team from Europe to have to contemplate. A quarter final or a semi-final in South Africa.

"A one-off game, travelling there and travelling back, it is going to be tough."

While much has been made of the involvement of South Africa in Europe, which could potentially include an addition to the Six Nations, Thornley feels that, ultimately, it will improve the competition all-round.

"By and large I think they are going to be good for the tournament," Thornley added. "South Africa are going to become a major player in the URC.

"It is going to be tough for even Leinster to start winning it in a few years."

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