“The board of the Cheetahs has reviewed the team’s future and is extremely positive about the prospect of appearing in alternative international competitions.”
That was the statement from Cheetahs CEO Harold Verster on the news that the Cheetahs and fellow South African side the Southern Kings are no longer part of Super Rugby.
The Pro12 seem determined to grow, with the addition of teams from America, Georgia and other European countries all having been mooted in the past, but will it be anything other than a total disaster to include underperforming sides from far away?
We asked some of our writers and friends from around the blogosphere for their thoughts on the state of the PRO12 and the plans for expansion.
The view from Ireland:
At the end of May, just before the Irish Under 20s squad set off for Georgia to take part in the World Championship, hooker Tadhg McElroy was told he had been dropped, as the IRFU had learned he was on the verge of a move to European champions Saracens.
Keeping its principal stars on Irish soil has been the foundation on which the IRFU has built much of its success at both test and provincial levels during the professional era… now the amount of TV money available to Premiership and Top14 clubs means that they are even having trouble holding on to their best academy prospects never mind full internationals.
If the Celtic nations are to compete, they will have to find new revenue streams, so from that point of view, inviting teams from South Africa and the US to the competition makes sense.
My main concern is that by rushing the Cheetahs and the Kings into the competition so soon, there may not be time to get over the obvious logistical problems. I also hope they don’t increase the number of matches from the current 22 – the calendar is full enough as it is, though an extra two playoff slots would be ok.
The view from Wales:
Sadly, it now seems inevitable that the competition that can barely sustain rugby in South Wales (my home, God’s country and a rugby heartland) will be expanding into South Africa.
Just take a look at the state of some of the current Pro12 sides. Dragons Rugby (the artists formerly known as the Newport Gwent Dragons) have had to be bought up by the WRU to stop them folding while Edinburgh, despite being a side peppered with Scottish internationals, are woefully inconsistent and have moved from Murrayfield to Myreside to try and increase interest and stem dwindling attendances.
How did the last expansion attempt go? Benetton Treviso have barely developed since joining the Pro12 in 2010 and have one of the lowest attendances in the league, averaging just 2,460, while fellow Italian outfit Aironi only lasted two seasons (finishing bottom on both occasions) before the Italian Rugby Federation stripped them of regional status and their license for financial reasons. They were replaced by Zebre, who despite having a pretty cool badge, are equally disappointing.
You could argue that bringing in two Southern Hemisphere sides will shake things up a bit and improve the quality of rugby, but what, realistically, do they offer the league?
Despite being two of the poorer sides in the Super Rugby competition, you can’t help but feel they will come in and give the likes of Zebre and Treviso a good humping, (I would include Edinburgh and the Dragons to that list but they are somewhat of an unknown quantity going into next season with new management and ownership respectively) which does little to aid their development.
Also, when you consider that both outfits have struggled to maintain support within their own country, they are hardly going to bring a huge wave of new viewers or support with them. Are they adding anything other than a new financial and logistical burden on the current Pro12 sides who are hardly the most financially secure at the best of times.
You only have to look at the RFL’s repeated attempts at expansion outside of the traditional rugby league corridor (London Broncos/Harlequins RL/Crusaders) to see how well expansion for expansion’s sake goes.
I may be being overly negative, but as a life long Aston Villa fan, it comes with the territory. I can’t help but feel everyone’s time and money would be far better spent trying to sort out the state of the current sides before trying to take the Pro12 global.
I miss the Magners League…
A Welshman living in Scotland, James Rhys Baylis is our London Scottish correspondent. Follow him on twitter @JamesRhys90.
The view from Italy:
Describing the actual situation of Italian Rugby at pro club level by using the word “uncertainty” is not far from reality but, at the same time, a massive understatement.
The truth is it is almost impossible to decipher what future holds for Italian Rugby at this level.
“On 1st July we should have become members of the PRO12 board but so far […] we have not received any information in that regard,” said Alfredo Gavazzi, FIR president and the man in charge of Italian Rugby as a whole, to La Gazzetta dello Sport. “If we will not be part of the PRO12 in the future, we might have to think about a new format for the Eccellenza (Italian domestic semi-pro competition).”
This uncertainty is affecting the players too who are forced to once again look abroad for employment.
“As soon as I knew that ‘Zebre Rugby ssd arl’ (the full legal name of Zebre) would not take part to the next PRO12 season, I asked my agent to see if he could help me find a club abroad. This happened on 14th June. A day later I received an offer from RC Toulon and, needless to say, I accepted it straight away.”
Italian full back Edoardo Padovani summed perfectly up in that interview with “Il Grillotalpa” the actual situation of one of the two Italian franchises which will play in the Guinness PRO12 – or whatever the format will be. Zebre will actually still be part of that league, but will now be entirely owned by the FIR. They are still waiting on the announcement of a head coach.
Considering – as Quintin Geldenhuys, then Zebre’s captain, told me last year – Zebre faced a 14-hour trip to get from Parma to Limerick (one-way), without external financial help, I do not dare to think how long it will take them to travel to Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso, still as they were at the beginning of the Italian adventure in the PRO12, are ready to tackle next season. In the future, they might well be the only club waving the flag of Italian rugby in an expanded PRO12.
“We are not against the expansion of the PRO12, but I think we should discuss it.” According to Il Mattino di Padova, Gavazzi will meet Anayi – PRO12 CEO – on Tuesday in Rome to discuss, very likely, the expansion of the competition. The only problem is, with the (poor) results collected in the past seasons, Italy does not seem to be in the best condition to negotiate the best possible deal.
The news that two of South Africa’s rugby teams will be joining the northern hemisphere’s Pro12 is just the beginning of the exodus that will one day see all of the country’s franchise play in an expanded pan-European tournament, writes Kaylan Geekie.
The Southern Kings and Cheetahs will be joining the Pro12 next season after being cut from the convoluted 18-team Super Rugby competition.
Super Rugby has not been the same since the expansion from 12 teams, first to 14, 15, then 18 sides. What was once the world’s premier rugby tournament, it has, in the past ten years, become weakened by one-sided matches, dwindling television audiences and crowds.
This has led to a general state of apathy, to the detriment and integrity of the game. Add to this, the exodus of South African professional rugby players, chasing the euro and pound as well as international honours with other countries, it makes sense that one day, all of the Republic’s franchises will be based in Europe.
In what guise, nobody knows, but with the chance to increase revenues, keep the Springboks strong by retaining players and stopping the drain, SA Rugby can only be thinking about this move – and they are. Travelling, time zones and jet lag has always been to the South African’s disadvantage; this move will be beneficial to player welfare, the Boks and the bottom line.
Who knows, this might be the start of the way forward to a global league – something that should have happened a decade ago. The Cheetahs and Kings’ transition will be watched carefully and if it is a success, it is only a matter of time before South Africa pulls out of Sanzaar – it is the way of the future.
The view from Scotland:
Well, what do we think?
I think Super Rugby, in the conference format it has just now, is a dog’s dinner and this is reflected in the falling attendances for a tournament with no clear identity. In an ideal world, I suppose, each country would be able to sustain a professional league of its own as England and France do, and the gallivanting off around Europe would be left for the European competition. It sounds a bit parochial but all the travel should be a novelty, not the norm for what is supposed to be your “bread and butter” rugby.
In an ideal world, I suppose, each country playing top flight rugby would be able to sustain a professional league of its own as England and France do, and the gallivanting off around Europe would be left for the European competition. It sounds a bit parochial but all the travel should be a novelty, not the norm for what is supposed to be your “bread and butter” rugby.
I am sure we’d all love to go back to the 60s-70s and have the traditional clubs feeding straight into the national teams but there is now a massive leap in resource and level to international rugby and since professionalism, the game at all levels in Scotland has struggled to step up to fill the gap the next level down.
We now live in a globalised, commercial world and our own player base in Scotland is too small to sustain the quality required for keeping (/making) the national team a success across 8-10 teams. This is the issue and it is the same in Wales where the regions are struggling for an identity, a sense of place. In Ireland they are almost victims of their own success with strong regional identities now established but with success comes player poaching. For them, it’s perhaps more about money.
So we end up clubbing together to make sure the teams we do have can play at the required level.
That’s not to say that in a few years when the TransAtlantic Pro16 has crashed and burned, we couldn’t see Scottish clubs with resource and ambition stepping in to fill a gap. After all, Treviso are actually a club-based side in the PRO12. Or there may be scope to expand the number of Scottish regional teams back up if the game grows as we hope it will.
The Celtic League at least had some sort of unifying theme, spread amongst the 3 main Celtic nations. Could we bring back the Borders, invite RC Vannes and the Cornish Pirates? The Isle of Man is currently without a representative rugby side although there are six clubs on the island. An Isle of Man Jaguares anyone?
It’s a nice idea but won’t bring in the big bucks. And South Africa does.
Regardless of the future, there is massive uncertainty over the present of the Pro12 even as it looks like the South African expansion will go ahead sooner rather than later – there are rumours of an announcement by the 18th. It might improve the quality, it should improve the financial situation if the reports of big TV money are true, and it will definitely be a novelty; will it improve the league as a whole?
For now, we will have to wait and see.