South African Super Rugby Teams in the PRO12

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SA Pro Rugby
TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 27: Niel Marais #10 (C) of the Cheetahs is tackled by Derek Carpenter #13 of the Sunwolves during the Super Rugby Rd 14 match between Sunwolves and Cheetahs at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground on May 27, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images for SUNWOLVES)

A new concept circulating in the rugby world is the possibility of South African Super Rugby teams competing in the European Guinness PRO12 competition.

South African Super Rugby Teams in the PRO12

This concept is a new development and is as a direct result of SANZAAR deciding to cut three teams from the Super Rugby Competition, removing one from Australia and two in South Africa. In Australia it is the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force who are coming to blows with the ARU, both presenting their own unique cases for retaining their Super Rugby status. No end is in sight and it is likely that the fate of each team will be decided by the lawmakers and not rugby people.

No decision has been made yet in South Africa but the general sentiment is that it is the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings that are most likely to face the chop. All of the South African Super Rugby teams can provide a valid reason for retaining their Super Rugby status, be it performance based or opportunity based.

The early indicators are that the Cheetahs and Kings are both headed to competing in what is now known as the PRO12. The bolter here is that there is possibly a third South African Super Rugby franchise wanting to switch competitions.

The Argument for PRO12 Participation

There are many arguments that would indicate that entering this competition makes sense. The time zones certainly do make sense as South African fans can see their teams play in the afternoon or evening as opposed to the current early morning games that happen when sides play in Australia and New Zealand. The impact of travel and jet lag is also negated.

Before we fool ourselves though, we need to appreciate that it is all about the money. South African Super Rugby teams bring with them massive viewership, albeit declining in recent years, to the table. That viewership equals television rights money and it is this that represents an important bargaining chip. It has been a known fact for many years that the South African viewing audience earns the competition the bulk of its television rights earnings. These earnings are not split proportionately though and is distributed equally across the participating countries.

The base argument for taking part in the PRO12 is that the South African teams can earn a cut of the television rights money based on a much stronger currency – the Pound. This money would be used to retain players who would otherwise have been attracted to Europe by the strength of the Pound.

Reducing the television rights money would have a significant impact on both the Australian and New Zealand game as the much needed cash inflow would be reduced.

The Argument Against PRO12 Participation

The financial reward is certainly an attractive option but the question that needs to be answered is what has changed? The South African teams have been weakened by a continuous player drain into Europe and are unable to sustain six franchises. The SANZAAR decision to cut teams in Super Rugby was intended to force the South African and Australian authorities to concentrate their player resources into fewer teams. Simply taking the teams removed from Super Rugby and entering them into another competition flies in the face of the intent of the original decision.

If SARU is seriously entertaining this idea, we have to question how they accepted SANZAAR’s (and by implication New Zealand’s) proposal to cut teams from two of the participating five nations in the first place. This needs to considered in the light of the aforementioned viewership and value of television rights that South Africa brings to the table.

If this scenario does indeed play out as it is assumed, we have to question SARU’s true motives here. Are they bowing to the pressures from their six Super Rugby franchise holders and still accommodating all of them, cutting across the grain of what was decided within SANZAAR structures?

Only time will tell.

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