CAPE TOWN - Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union have confirmed that the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will join an expanded Guinness 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 Guinness 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.
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 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 a need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
- 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 Guinness 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. But South African teams will not be eligible to qualify for the European Champions Cup or Challenge Cup at present.
The Conferences need to fulfill 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 two Irish teams, two welsh, one Italian, one Scottish and one South African
Additionally, for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
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.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said the decision to accept an invitation to play in the northern hemisphere competition was a ground-breaking move that added a whole new dimension to the South African season.
“This development is as exciting as the launch of Super Rugby itself back in 1996,” said Roux. “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 rugby horizons.
“This time next year South African provincial teams will be competing in 11 countries on five continents. We believe the Cheetahs’ and Kings’ participation will be good for the competition and good for the teams.”
Harold Verster, CEO of the Cheetahs, believes that both clubs will be viewed as “trail blazers” as they make their preparations to compete in the Guinness PRO14.
“There will be a steep learning curve for our coaches and players but we’re in it to win it. This is a whole new ball game for rugby in South Africa and we’re proud to be trail blazers. There is a lot of excitement around the union about the opportunity and we’re already looking forward to kick off,” Verster said.
“We’re excited about taking the Cheetahs’ famous brand of all-out attacking rugby to Europe and bringing top European clubs to South Africa. The Free State is one of the great nurseries of rugby in South Africa and this is an exciting prospect for our young players – to test themselves against top players from the northern hemisphere.”
Andre Rademan, president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union, said: “We have been through tough times on and off the field over recent years but we now have the chance to reclaim our status as one of the powerhouses of South African rugby.
“The Southern Kings have been on an upward playing curve this season and there is much to be excited about. This team represents the heartlands of black rugby in South Africa – a tradition stretching back to the very establishment of the game in this country – and we will bring a unique passion and flavour to the tournament.”
In order to provide travelling teams to South Africa with the best possible preparation, games will be fixed for Saturdays. This will allow visiting teams to have a seven-day turnaround leading into these fixtures including five ‘clean days’ that do not involve any travel.
Flights between Europe and South Africa are overnight which will allow players to rest during the journey while training facilities and accommodation venues are up to the standards expected in Super Rugby.
For teams who are scheduled to play twice in South Africa, the aim will be for them to play back-to-back games on a ‘mini-tour’ in one round trip. Where the fixture list prevents this, games in South Africa for those clubs will be spread across a reasonable period of time.