Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union have today confirmed what has been all but common knowledge in recent weeks: that the Toyota Cheetahs (wasn’t that Munster?) and the Southern Kings will join an expanded Guinness PRO14 tournament
At the risk of bloating the competition to worse effect than drinking fifteen pints of the black stuff, a long-term agreement has been signed allowing the participation of the two South African franchises in the renamed Guinness PRO14 Championship in time for the upcoming 2017/18 season.
Yes, the one that starts in a month or so.
The agreement means that the Championship will take place across the northern and southern hemispheres and marks “the first phase of expansion as the Guinness PRO14 becomes a truly global
tournament”. Who needs the World Cup? We can live the dream every Friday night.
Oh and if that phrase “first phase of expansion” didn’t send shivers down your spine, you haven’t been watching Game of Thrones.
Still, perhaps this is why the SRU is looking to boost the semi-pro level of the game in Scotland. If this grand experiment implodes, the game may need to become self-sufficient in the Celtic nations sooner rather than later. Add the pro-teams into it and we could have an 8 team professional league where 2 teams dominate every season. That would go down well in Scotland, right?
From the official announcement, “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.” In other words, these teams are not coming to make up the numbers but here’s a big pile of cash in case you get beaten.
THE NEW FORMAT
The addition of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will require the Championship to introduce a new Conference format, as the current league format can’t support 14 teams in the timeframe available.
The Guinness PRO14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allow the new clubs to be added without the need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
- Munster (IRFU)
- Ospreys (WRU)
- Glasgow Warriors (SRU)
- Cardiff Blues (WRU)
- Connacht (IRFU)
- Zebre Rugby Club (FIR)
- Toyota Cheetahs (SA Rugby)
- Scarlets (WRU)
- Leinster (IRFU)
- Ulster (IRFU)
- Edinburgh (SRU)
- Benetton Rugby (FIR)
- Dragons (WRU)
- Southern Kings (SA Rugby)
There are an equal number of teams from each union in both 7 team conferences (2 Irish teams; 2 Welsh; 1 Italian; 1 Scottish, 1 South African). Groupings have been decided based on the previous season’s final placings that feed into union rankings; for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
- 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
- South African clubs will not be eligible to qualify for EPCR tournaments at present
- To maintain competitive balance the Conferences will be reset each season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
The fixture list has been drafted for all 21 rounds and these will be confirmed next week after the TV powers and clubs have been consulted.
As it stands there, Glasgow will probably fancy their chances of hitting the top three in their group having avoided the Scarlets, Leinster and Ulster. On the other hand Conference B contains Edinburrgh, Treviso and the (non-Newport Gwent) Dragons so the top three with more fixtures against weaker teams at the top of that will be focusing on racking up the points home and away. The 7th European place could come out of that conference. But of course, this will be the year Edinburgh bounce back!
Another perhaps interesting side effect could be increased visibility for Scottish-qualified southern hemisphere players to play in front of the Scottish coaches. Obviously residency players would still need to be playing in Scotland, but your Huw Jones type guys plying their trade in South Africa who already qualify for Scotland suddenly have a shop window available without uprooting everything first.
It’s the PRO12 Jim, but not as we know it…