Cape Town - Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union on Tuesday confirmed that the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will join an expanded PRO14 tournament in time for the upcoming 2017/18 season.
A long-term strategic agreement has been signed by both parties which will allow the participation of two South African franchises in the renamed PRO14 Championship.
The agreement means that the Championship will take place across the northern and southern hemispheres and marks the first phase of expansion as the PRO14 becomes a truly global tournament.
“This move will contribute to the drive for ever higher standards that we demand across the tournament and provide greater resources to our clubs who will compete in the most testing environment the Championship has ever created,” Celtic Rugby said via a press statement.
“We can also reassure supporters across the Championship that all current home and away derby games have been protected - these fixtures are sacrosanct to the tournament and those tribal rivalries are just one element of what makes the PRO14 so special.
"With a new format, new teams and new audiences the PRO14 - which leads World Rugby statistics for Positive Play – will hit even greater heights in 2017/18.”
The tournament will start in September, with the final scheduled for May 26, 2018.
The addition of the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will require the Championship to introduce a new conference format as a league format is not suited to a 14-team cross-border tournament.
The PRO14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allows for the new clubs to be added into the Championship without need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
Munster (IRFU), Ospreys (WRU), Glasgow Warriors (SRU), Cardiff Blues (WRU), Connacht (IRFU), Zebre Rugby Club (FIR), Cheetahs (SA Rugby)
Scarlets (WRU), Leinster (IRFU), Ulster (IRFU), Edinburgh (SRU), Benetton Rugby (FIR), Dragons (WRU), Southern Kings (SA Rugby)
- Each conference will contain 7 teams with an equal split of teams from each union
- Every team plays 21 regular season games
- Every team to play each other at least once
- All home & away Derby fixtures will remain in place
- Italian, Scottish and South African teams will play an additional Derby fixture to even out the schedule (e.g. Edinburgh will play Glasgow Warriors three times)
- The PRO14 final series will now include quarter-finals allowing six clubs to reach the knock-out stages (teams 1-3 from each Conference)
- The top 3 clubs from each conference will qualify for the Champions Cup while the team with the highest points total outside of those six teams across both conferences will claim the final Champions Cup place
South African franchises will not be eligible to qualify for EPCR tournaments at present.
The Conferences need to fulfil two criteria.
First, there must be an equal number of teams from each union in both conferences. Secondly, there must be a competitive balance based upon the previous season’s final placings that feed into union rankings.
To create an equal number of teams per union each conference will contain:
- 2 Irish teams; 2 Welsh; 1 Italian; 1 Scottish, 1 South African
Additionally, for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
Note: To maintain competitive balance the Conferences will be reset each season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
The regular season will consist of 21 rounds, which is one game less than the previous format. These rounds will be made up from a combination of:
- 12 home & away games in your team’s conference
- 7 home OR away games against each team from the other conference
- An additional 2 rounds to ensure all derby fixtures are played home & away (this means Scottish, Italian, South African clubs play three derbies)
The fixture list has been drafted for all 21 rounds, this will be confirmed next week (commencing August 7) after the Championship’s broadcast partners have made their selections for live television broadcasts and the clubs have been consulted.