Cape Town - SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux says his organisation's decision to accept an invitation for the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to play in the northern hemisphere’s PRO14 is a ground-breaking move that added a whole new dimension to the South African rugby season.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings will kick off a new adventure for South African rugby in five weeks’ time when they become the newest members of the new-look PRO14 competition.
The tournament - featuring the leading clubs of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy - has been expanded to incorporate two South African teams in a ground-breaking move into cross-hemisphere rugby.
The two South African franchises - which voluntarily withdrew from Super Rugby participation in July - will play a schedule of 21 matches from September to the final on May 26, 2018.
“This development is as significant as the launch of Super Rugby itself back in 1996,” Roux said via a press statement on Tuesday.
“It marks the start of a new adventure for rugby in South Africa with a number of exciting opportunities. It will not be without its challenges in aligning with a competition in a different part of the calendar and in very different playing conditions; but it is also a fantastic opportunity for South African rugby to widen our playing horizons.
“We’re very grateful to the PRO12 for opening the door to entry to one of the world’s top competitions, featuring some of the game’s leading club teams. We believe the Cheetahs’ and Southern Kings’ participation will be good for the competition and good for the teams.
“This is a very exciting day for South African rugby as a whole and the Cheetahs and Southern Kings in particular.”
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.