South African sides have earned the right to mix it with the best in Europe in the Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, according to former England and Sharks flyhalf Andy Goode.
The 2022-23 Champions Cup welcomes Vodacom United Rugby Championship-winners the Stormers, who will face Clermont Auvergne and London Irish in Pool B, and runners-up the Vodacom Bulls who were drawn with 2020 winners Exeter Chiefs and reigning EPCR Challenge Cup champions Lyon in Pool A.
Fifth-place URC finishers the Sharks will also compete in the Heineken Champions Cup with fixtures against Harlequins and Bordeaux-Begles while the Lions will play Stade Francais and Worcester Warriors in the EPCR Challenge Cup.
Former Pro14 outfit the Cheetahs are the final side taking part from SA after accepting an invitation to play in the EPCR Challenge Cup, but will be based in Italy where they will welcome Pau and Scarlets in Pool B.
Goode, a two-time Heineken Champions Cup winner who played Super Rugby for the Durban-based Sharks in 2010, said: “Physically, it is going to be a huge test for every team playing against a South African side.
“I think it’s brilliant for the competition, we are trying to improve the legacy and the quality of it, and you only have to look at the URC where the final was between two SA teams.
“The passion that you get from SA rugby players and fans over here or over there is just phenomenal, it’s a huge addition to the competition.
“It’s basically the mecca of rugby, South Africa, it’s where you want to go and play and test yourself whether for a SA team or against.
“It’s a beautiful country and what other fan wouldn’t want to go and see it as well. We all understand there’s a fair bit of travel involved but it’s good for evolution.
“These SA teams bring quality and a lot of physicality. Their national team are World Cup champions, they are URC champions, so they have earned the right to be here and they will be a fantastic addition to the tournament.”
Goode’s former Leicester Tigers teammate, Benjamin Kayser, who spent eight years at Clermont, admits the exciting arrival of SA sides makes it feel like two brand-new competitions and, although it is not without its complications, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The five-time Champions Cup finalist said: “Adding the SA teams – however complicated the logistics will be – it’s challenging the best, so it will improve the talent, the competition and the general level. It’s mouthwatering!
“It’s hugely exciting and clearly a new competition. It’s about the best teams in the world challenging each other, adding value on the pitch, and putting on quality rugby to everybody’s delight.
“South Africa are the reigning World Cup winners and it was only a matter of time before we tried to make this competition better.
“The nature of the competition will absolutely change but if it’s for better-quality rugby and pushing the boundaries of rugby into the future, then I’m excited for it.”
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the tournament organiser for the Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, featuring the very best club rugby teams from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and – for the first time from the 2022-23 season – South Africa.
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images