Proposed ‘Pro14 With South Africa Teams’ Takes a Step Closer

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Munster v Scarlets - Guinness PRO12 Round 6
JJ Hanrahan, Munster, kicks a penalty. Guinness PRO12, Round 6, Munster v Scarlets. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis via Getty Images)

A proposed ‘Pro14 with South Africa teams’ takes a step closer, with meetings between Pro12 shareholders and Celtic Rugby Ltd. Chief Executives over the next ten days. This will support news on which South African conference Super Rugby teams will be axed ahead of next season.

Guinness Pro12 CEO, Martin Anayi (see below image) has been tasked with resolving these issues in order to keep up with the increasing market from it’s neighbours in the Aviva Premiership and Top 14. A Pro14 with South African teams [cast-out by Super Rugby] might see a boost in interest from within the African continent.

23 August 2016 – Chief Exectutive of PRO12 Rugby Martin Anayi during the launch of the Guinness PRO12 2016/17 Championship in Dublin. (Photo credit Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)

EPRC Qualification

It has long been a burning issue for Guinness Pro12 fans that Italian sides like Zebre or Treviso can qualify for the EPRC (European Professional Rugby Clubs) Champions Cup, despite them often finishing in 11th place.

The good news is that Anayi and his directors have finally reviewed this and beginning in the 2018-19 campaign, that policy is changing.

The top seven sides in the Pro12 will therefore qualify for the Champions Cup regardless of their nationality. The remaining five sides from the competition will qualify for the Challenge Cup.

If the South African teams were to join and make this a Pro14, they would then likely be tasked with a meeting with EPRC and other stakeholder boards, on whether they could join in the European competitions.

Pro14 With South Africa Teams Takes a Step Closer

South African based sides – The Cheetahs and Southern Kings – could be set to join the Pro12 as early as this coming season. SANZAAR will announce the three sides being dropped from the Southern Hemisphere’s premiere club/franchise tournament, turning Super Rugby into a 15 team competition on July 7th.

SARU are set to cut two of it’s sides from the Super Rugby format with them pushing for a move to the Celtic league.

Conference System Awaits Pro12 Teams

The addition of two extra sides has seen the likelihood of a conference system being introduced increase. There would then be two conferences splitting the sides into 7 teams. It is then proposed that the top three sides from each conference then progress to a play-off system.

This would result in a reduction in fixtures for some teams who fail to qualify and thus a creation of a third regional derby game is being looked into by Celtic Rugby ltd, who govern the Pro12.

It remains private as to how this regional derby game will be drawn and to who gets the ‘home’ advantage. It has been suggested amongst Welsh based fans that they could use this opportunity for a Judgement Day part two in the season.

What happens in regards to those fixtures will probably be solved in the meetings due to take place over the next ten days between SARU, Celtic Rugby and Pro12 stakeholder chiefs.

London Based Home Ground?

It has been suggested that the newly added sides could play some of their home ties from Saracens’ Allianz Park.

This carries its own complications with two main obstacles. Saracens’ fixture organisers are under a different league operator (PRL).  This would require excellent co-ordination by those in charge of fixtures in the Pro12, where historically, they have performed awfully.

It also presents problems if both teams are set to play a home game in the same week, as they would then have to play at different times which is not ideal for TV viewers.

These viewers would be made up of a majority of South African based fans, who would not only dislike the inconsiderate scheduling but may also debate whether they continue to invest in their side if it moved its home – albeit temporarily – to London? A question we need to factor in when discussing their TV deal value.

The upside is that the time difference between the UK, Ireland & South Africa is nowhere near as problematic as with the Australasian teams.  The option is a long trip to either Bloemfontein (Cheetahs) or Port-Elizabeth (Kings) for away fans.

Offshore Away Games for European Clubs

An additional consideration is that Saracens are only allowed 16 event days with crowds of over 5,000 in attendance at Allianz Park every season – this explains why they play a game at Wembley during every campaign. This is limited further by these ”event days” being restricted to five hours maximum duration, preventing any possibility of a double header for the South Africans.

Should the London base plans not come to fruition, the sides are likely to play from South Africa, where visiting teams will likely play both sides in a two week block, to save on the pressure of travel costs.

Future Additions, with Pro14 South Africa Teams

WRU Chairman, Gareth Davies told the BBC ”At the moment it looks like the two teams from Super Rugby that will not be in the competition next year will join (the Pro12). I suspect there will be interest further afield from South African teams as well.”

Thus opening the door to even more South African involvement if all parties involved see it as a positive move.

Super Rugby’s Loss is Pro12’s Gain

The pair will add around £11m a year to the current Pro12 TV deal with the Kings’ sponsor SuperSport looking to seal a deal with the Celtic league that see’s a 100% increase in television turnover. Something that is vastly needed to keep up with the deals in place in England (£152m contract signed in 2012, likely to increase as deal goes to 2021) and France (£75m from 2019).

What they bring playing wise is a faster more open game plan but with a limited number of well known international players, their value could be questioned.  The Pro12 is keen to add more international superstars to the league to boost its chances at a better TV deal.

Lastly, the average home crowds for both teams are not especially noteworthy, with the Cheetahs averaging only 8,160 and the Kings dropping to as low as 2,226 for their season opener. This last figure would be lower than any game in the Pro12 last season – is this really improvement?

“Main photo credit”

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