The 16-team league, forged from an agreement between PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby, replaces the Pro14 and will feature both Scottish professional clubs Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors.
Although final positions will be decided by a single league table, teams are also divided into four regional pools: Italian & Scottish Pool – Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh Glasgow Warriors, Zebre Rugby Club; Irish Pool – Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster; Welsh Pool – Dragons, Cardiff Rugby, Ospreys, Scarlets; South African Pool – Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls.
There will be 18 rounds of fixtures in the regular season comprimising six home and away fixtures played by each team in their pool. The remaining 12 games will be made from an even number of home or away games against the other teams in the league.
So Edinburgh and Glasgow will each play each other twice and each play Benetton and Zebre twice. The Scottish pro sides will then face the other 12 teams once only.
After 18 rounds of games, the top eight teams will qualify for the quarter-finals, followed by semi-finals and a final. Teams will be seeded from 1 to 8 and will receive home advantage according to their seeding for these fixtures.
The URC Grand Final venue will be decided later.
In arguably the most radical change the door is now open for the South African teams to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup, Europe’s premier club rugby competition.
Eight teams from the United Rugby Championship will go into the following season’s Champions Cup.
Here is a profile of all the clubs taking part:
Based: Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, Scotland
Head coach: Mike Blair
Captain(s): Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally
Key player: Hamish Watson, flanker - the 41-times capped Scotland international made his British & Ireland Lions debut this summer after being crowned the Player of the Tournament at the 2021 Six Nations.
Based: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, Scotland
Head coach: Danny Wilson
Captain(s): Ryan Wilson and Fraser Brown
Key player: Ali Price, scrum-half - The English-born 25-year-old, who has won 24 caps for Scotland, played in all three British & Irish Lions tests during the recent tour of South Africa.
Based: Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, Italy
Head coach: Kieran Crowley
Captain(s): Dewaldt Duvenage and Michele Lamaro
Key player: Andries Coetzee, full-back - a key signing ahead of the new season, the experienced 31-year-old has been capped 13 times by South Africa and turned out 98 times for the Lions.
Based: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria, South Africa
Head coach: Jake White
Captain(s): Duane Vermeulen
Key player: Johan Goosen, fly-haf/full-back/outside centre - produced a man of the match performance in helping Montpellier win the European Challenge Cup final in 2021, and scored 99 points in 8 Currie Cup appearances after joining Bulls this summer.
Based: Cardiff Arms Park, Wales
Head coach: John Mulvihill
Captain(s): Ellis Jenkins
Key player: Josh Adams, wing/full-back - the Wales international was one of the stars for British & Irish Lions this summer, scoring eight tries in three matches, including two hat-tricks
Based: Galway Sportsground, Ireland
Head coach: Andy Friend
Captain(s): Jarrard Butler
Key player: Bundee Aki, centre - the New Zealand-born Ireland internationals has been at the club sine 2014 and earned his first call up to the British & Irish Lions squad this year.
Based: Rodney Parade, Newport, Wales
Director of Rugby: Dean Ryan
Captain(s): Rhodri Williams
Key player: Ross Moriarty, flanker - the Wales international missed out on the British & Irish Lions selection this summer due to the strength of the back row, having previously been called up in 2017.
Based: Aviva Stadium and RDS Main Arena, Dublin, Ireland
Head coach: Leo Cullen
Captain(s): Jonny Sexton
Key player: Jonny Sexton, fly-half - the 36-year-old veteran is one of the highest points scorers in the history of rugby and won the World Rugby Player of the Year award as recently as 2018.
Based: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg, South Africa
Head coach: Ivan van Rooyen
Captain(s): Dan Kriel
Key player: Wandisile Simelane, outside centre - big things are expected from last year's SA Rugby Young Player of the Year, who has burst through to the national ranks after a series of explosive performances for the Lions.
Based: Musgrave Park and Thomond Park, Ireland
Head coach: Johann van Graan
Captain(s): Peter O'Mahony
Key player: Simon Zebo, wing/full-back - one of the most exciting players in world rugby returns to his native Irish province after three years in France with Racing 92.
Based: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Head coach: Toby Booth
Captain(s): Justin Tipuric
Key player: Alun Wyn Jones, lock - the world's most-capped rugby union player, with 160 international appearances - 148 for Wales and 12 for the British & Irish Lions, who he has captained over the last three tours.
Based: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli, Wales
Head coach: Dwayne Peel
Captain(s): Ken Owens
Key player: Liam Williams, wing/full-back - regarded as one of the most exciting attacking talents in world rugby due to a combination of consistency and box-office entertainment. Featured in his second Lions tour this year.
Based: Jonsson Kings Park Stadium, Durban, South Africa
Head coach: Sean Everitt
Captain(s): Phepsi Buthelezi and Lukhanyo Am
Key player: Siya Kolisi, back row - the 29-year-old Springboks World Cup-winning skipper is a hugely influential figure but will be missing from Sharks opening URC games due to his international commitments.
Based: Newlands Rugby Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa
Head coach: John Dobson
Captain(s): Salmaan Moerat and Ernst van Rhyn
Key player: Tim Swiel, fly-half - the former Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons star pulled off a couple of match-winning kicks in the Rainbow Cup
Based: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Head coach: Dan McFarland
Captain(s): Iain Henderson
Key player: Jacob Stockdale, wing/full-back - His footwork, pace, strength and ability to beat defenders make him a potent finisher as his title of Ireland’s most consistent try scorer testifies.
Based: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, Italy
Head coach: Michael Bradley
Captain(s): Giulio Bisegni
Key player: Luca Bigi, hooker - the current captain of Italy is fiercely proud player and leader and will be at the forefront of the set-piece battle.
The opening weekend fixtures are as follows:
Friday, September 24: Zebre v Lions, Cardiff v Connacht, Ulster v Glasgow Warriors.
Saturday, September 25: Benetton v Stormers, Edinburgh v Scarlets, Leinster v Bulls, Munster v Sharks.
Sunday, September 26: Dragons Vs Ospreys