Pro12 will be expanded to include two South African teams
Cheetahs and Southern Kings will join the league from next season as it becomes Pro14
The Cheetahs are based in Bloemfontein, South Africa and will join the Pro14 league. Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Pro 12 teams are to receive €500,000 each to cover costs after accepting two South African sides into the league for this coming season, The Irish Times has learned.
Television money, believed to increase by €12 million, has paved the way for the discarded Super Rugby franchises, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, to enter a newly expanded Pro 14 championship.
The league would be split into two conferences of seven with the loss of home match revenue covered by three rounds of interprovincials – the Irish provinces currently play each other twice, home and away – despite the congestion this would cause in an already well stocked fixture list.
The top three sides in each conference would progress to the play-offs in a similar situation to the French league whereby the top two teams would be waiting in the semi-finals.
The move appears attractive to title sponsors Guinness and broadcast partners Sky Sports as they can move into the African market.
With Super Rugby reduced from 18 to 15 sides next season, the South African squads are scrambling to keep elite rugby in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein.
“Super Rugby is an incoherent tournament and supporters have voted with their feet and their eyeballs,” Tony McKeever former chief executive of the Southern Spears told The Guardian after Sanzar opted to keep Japan and Argentina teams while cutting the two South African sides and one Australian. “They are not watching because the product has gone stale.”
The Kings and the Cheetahs conclude their Super Rugby season on July 14th, after which the majority of their players are out of contract.
The Guardian is also reporting that the Cheetahs have called a meeting Friday with all their contracted players to outline their futures. For the Kings, the situation is more complex. While the Cheetahs franchise is owned by Free State Rugby, South African rugby union effectively oversees the Kings after the Eastern Province Rugby Union went into liquidation in 2016.
Plenty of issues remain unresolved. Qualification for the Champions Cup may be muddied by the South Africans presence and it remains unclear just how competitive these two teams can be with such a short preparation time. Then there is the travel issue.
Also, the door has not been closed on at least one US franchise joining the old Celtic League.
“This is all about primary markets,” said Martin Anayi, Pro 12 chief executive last year. “We can’t be in England, we can’t be in France, so where are the other big primary markets? There is a big continent called North America that everyone is looking at. Our unions believe in the same thing: that the best way for USA Rugby to become a tier-one nation is through our tournament.”