With the Southern Kings recently axed from Super Rugby, along with their Bloemfontein counter-parts, the Cheetahs, many have speculated what the future holds for these South African franchises. Over the weeks since the decision to axe the Kings and Cheetahs was made, the most prominent rumours have been that the Kings and Cheetahs will take part in the European Pro12 competition.
In fact, the rumours are so strong that all that is needed now is an announcement to be made in order to make the move official. Celtic rugby, which is the association of Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian Rugby unions, has already confirmed, “advanced and positive discussions are taking place with the South African Rugby Union regarding the introduction of two teams into an expanded Guinness PRO12 Championship. Given the proximity of the 2017/18 season start, a final decision on this potential expansion will be confirmed as soon as practical.”
This statement came on 19 July 2017, which suggests that within the forthcoming weeks, the Pro12 will soon be officially expanded in some capacity to a Pro14 format or similar. However, what will this mean for South African, and even European rugby?
Firstly, as it stands, the Guinness Pro12 Championship consists of 12 teams, from Ireland (four teams, namely Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster), Scotland (two teams, namely Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors), Wales (four teams, namely Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets) and Italy (two teams, namely Benetton Treviso and Zebre). The competition runs from September to May each year, often taking a break during the International windows in November and during the 6 Nations competition in February.
Each team currently plays each other team twice in a season, once at home and once away, with log points being awarded for winning (four points) and drawing (two points). At the end of the season, the four teams with the highest total of log points make it through to the semi-finals, and eventually the top two teams face off in the final for the championship.
However, the structure of the competition could change slightly with the addition of the two South African sides. Due to the fact that, going on the current structure, the addition of two new teams could lengthen the competition by a month, by adding two more home and away matches per team; a two-conference log system is thought to be being looked at. Exactly how this system will work has yet to have been announced.
What we do know, is that the South African teams in a Pro14 will bring more rugby to South Africa, and could improve the depth in skill and playing ability as teams would need to grow their player base in order to compete. With an announcement expected before preparations for the 2017/2018 begin, it won’t be long before these questions are answered.