Pro12 to become Pro14 in surprise to no-one

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.

Conference A

  • Munster (IRFU)
  • Ospreys (WRU)
  • Glasgow Warriors (SRU)
  • Cardiff Blues (WRU)
  • Connacht (IRFU)
  • Zebre Rugby Club (FIR)
  • Toyota Cheetahs (SA Rugby)

Conference B

  • 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…

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28 comments on “Pro12 to become Pro14 in surprise to no-one

  1. David on

    I, for one, am pretty excited about this. I think a lot of the criticism of the Pro12 was partially justified in that their lack of communication was glaring, but I also have some sympathy for them trying to arrange what was likely a ‘now or never’ format in a matter of weeks. From what I have seen of the communications releases today, it has been worth waiting for. The clarity and quality of those releases has been, in the main, very good.

    To the rugby, an exciting new format with only one little issue for me. The top of the two fourth placed teams (Edinburgh and Connacht last season) will receive the final Champions Cup place based on points difference. This seems a little unfair given the uneven nature of the conferences. Surely a Champions cup play off would be more equitable.

    Altogether, I’m pretty excited to see how this goes – onward and upwards!

    • Doddies Trews on

      You’re right about the 4th place qualifying spot. However, if we are being partisan, it definitely benefits Edinburgh this year who have the easier group. No excuse for them to not get champions cup, frankly.

      Heck, if they actually get the act together it’s not inconceivable that they could pip Ulster, who will be missing both their first choice half backs (and goal kickers to boot – pun intended) from last season.

      • David on

        My Ulster supporting brother-in-law thinks they will be in disarray this year – I would tend to agree with both him and you. I doubt Scarlets will be able to replicate the season they had last year (although they will still be decent) and Dragons are muck. Leinster will be good as always and will absolutely walk the conference. Treviso will go backwards (not that they came particularly far forwards last season) and who knows if the Kings will be good or bad.

        My prediction; Leinster will top the pool, with Scarlets second and Edinburgh third. Ulster and the Kings will battle for fourth. You heard it here first! #preseasonoptimist

    • Merlot on

      A fourth placed play-off might not work as one of the SA sides may be in the top 4. For instance if the top 4 in conf.A are Glasgow, Munster, Opsreys, Cardiff and in Conf.B it ends up Leinster, Scarlets, Edinburgh, Southern Kings, Ulster, then a play-off between Cardiff and Kings would be pointless, and one between Cardiff and Ulster would give Ulster a chance they (might not) deserve.
      On the other hand, why not? There are play-offs happening anyway and it’s an important fixture. Just give the best placed team home advantage.

  2. JohnMc on

    Edinburgh fans should note you can fly return from EDI to Port Elizabeth with two stops en route each way for £700 odd. As this is only marginally less than I spent in the bar at the Stoop after the win over Quins in the Challenge Cup, I’m quite tempted …….

  3. Ade on

    I’m excited by this. Of course there is a risk that it could all go pear-shaped, but what venture doesn’t? Celtic Rugby know that they cannot stand still as the Aviva/Top 14 will leave them dead in the water in terms of revenue sooner rather than later.

    The SRU announcing the semi-pro league could conceivably be a safety net, or it could be a vibrant link between the pro and amateur games, allowing more talent to be identified and given meaningful game time. I’m hoping the latter, and not just for the sake of Scottish Rugby – if the Pro 14 bombs then Irish, Welsh and Italian rugby also hits the dark ages and none of us will likely catch the English or French for a long time.

    • Mikelinds on

      Have to agree, doing nothing was not an option. Same as maintaining the status quo in Scotland. Certainly there’s risk involved, but at least there’s some vision here. A mile away from the dark, dank days of McKie.

      Frankly even a smidgen of success on both fronts must help the national side.

      I can’t wait for the new season, Embra with Cockerill’s boot up their backsides and Glasgow with what looks like some very decent signings and Rennie to run it. Great!!

  4. Ade on

    Couple of other points

    First – games in SA to be played solely on Saturdays with player welfare in mind for those travelling from the NH. There was no mention of the same for SA teams playing in the NH – does their player welfare count for less? Do Cheetahs/Kings play a mini-tour on each away trip, which would allow the very popular Friday night rugby at Scotstoun to continue?

    Second – SA teams not qualifying for EPCR tournaments “at present”. Was the initial Champions Cup agreement for 6 years? If either the Cheetahs or Kings prove to be competitive then come 2020 when negotiations are taking place then they will be at the table asking for inclusion.

    Which brings up the third point – where do the Bulls, Sharks et al see their future? If the Pro 14 is a success and opens the door to EPCR comps then would they leave Super Rugby for the potentially richer NH pot? And would they end up in the Pro 14, or would the Aviva bosses try to lure them into an Anglo competition because they could smell a profit?

    • Ben on

      I have read rumors of Saru bosses having already spoken with English prem heads over the past year or so. A potential split from sanzaar at end of 2020 or 2021 seems popular with sa fans. Although I’m sure the English championship clubs would have something to say about being overlooked in any Aviva expansion.

      • Mikelinds on

        The PRL act solely in their own interests.

        English Championship are re-grouping following the demise of LW last year. A great deal of belt tightening. Bristol will win by a mile. Right now, the only Championship side who have the funding to mount a challenge are Ealing (Trailfinders), however their facilities are grotesque. Can’t see any grounds for complaint there!!

        More likely some of the PRL guys get indigestion…………….

      • Ade on

        They may have spoken to English Premiership heads Ben, but they have signed a deal with the Pro13. As Mike says PRL take the phrase “self-serving” to new heights.

        However, I would now expect the Aviva to be making overtures to the US/Canada, as well as monitoring the success of the Cheetahs/Kings experiment. If it turns out that there could be money in it for them then the attitude will change, and it will make the Heineken Cup coup look genteel in comparison.

        As for the English Championship – the club’s have been stitched up by PRL. Much is made of how the spectre of relegation makes the Aviva a tougher league, but in reality it’s a tick box exercise as the same teams yo-yo between the leagues. My local side, Nottingham, would be terrified of going up, as would most others as they lack the funding and facilities to make a success of it.

  5. R Piece on

    Bring it on! Ok, conferences create a slightly lopsided system, but I still think they will produce a deserving top 6.

    Also, I keen to see how the saffas kick on after this season when they won’t be coming into that season off the back of a super rugby season.

    Also, Raymond Rhule is going from Cheetahs to Stormers after the Currie Cup, which is a shame.

  6. Pete on

    It’ll be interesting how they navigate the South African summer which can easily hit 40+°C. They could possibly lump the SA teams away games into a block over this period?

    • Andy on

      Port Elizabeth you’re talking average summer temperatures of 25 degrees. Bloemfontein OK it can be oppresively hot but evening temperatures are generally fine. The players would be over the moon if they got a 2 week block in SA in the middle of the Winter.

  7. Merlot on

    Certainly not a surprise to me – I told you all about the format on 11th July (“Thoughts on the PRO12 Expansion to South Africa”).
    It was the only format worth the upheaval. Keeps the derbies (in fact increases them for us), keeps the play-offs (again, increases them) and still keeps under 22 games.
    Now it’s all about the fixture list – I can see them having blocks of games in SA to accommodate travel and climate.
    To be clear, I can see the SA sides having all (or most) of their home games in September, October, March and April. In addition, NH sides will travel to play both SA sides in succession – a mini tour.
    As an aside, I love the fact that their will be three games for the 1872 cup!

  8. Dan on

    Three games for the 1872 Cup… I am hoping one at Scotstoun, one at Myreside and the final at Murrayfield?

  9. Ade on

    With regard to the 3 derby games – what is the preferred format for these games. From the statement it seems that each team will have 2 home derbies on alternate years. That is fine by me.

    But the scheduling could make it rather tasty. Bring back the festive double header so that fans don’t have to travel too far at Crimbo (I’m hoping this is a no-brain er for the League as who wants the potential of a trip to SA at that time of year?)

    The 3rd derby should be an end of the regular season stooshie for all the clubs. The derbies bring an edge to the players, and it could have a real impact on final conference standings. It didn’t quite work out that way last year due to it being a dead rubber, but Edinburgh still put in a cracking performance. This year with Cockerill and Rennie in charge I hope they will both be pushing come April/May.

  10. Ade on

    And the 1872 Cup?

    Aggregate score over the 2 festive games?
    Aggregate score over the 3 derbies?
    Best of 3 games?

    What’s your preference? Any other options?

    How many weeks to go? I’m getting so excited for the new season!!! :0)

    • Andy N on

      I suppose the question will be is it fair to award the trophy on a 3 game aggregate when one of the teams will have had 2 home games….feels like season 2015/16 all over again. I agree we should return to the Xmas/NY double header, and the trophy should be based on the outcome of those 2 games.

      The third game is an unfortunate consequence of the current system and could well disappear in future seasons if more teams get added to the conferences, so no sense in ‘tainting’ the 1872 for what will most likley be a temporary blip in fixture setup.

      • Merlot on

        To be fair Andy, the 1872 cup wasn’t always a two-match affair anyway. Before 2007 it was only a single match (when it was played for at all). I like the idea of “best of 3”, with one game at Myreside, one at Scotstoun and the last (hopefully a decider) at Murrayfield.

      • Ade on

        Murrayfield won’t be used each year. The teams get 2 home derbies on alternate seasons according to the Pro 13 website.

  11. Ade on

    Good grief. Someone on FaceBoak this morning suggesting that the Western Force would be a better addition to the Pro 13 than Cheetahs and Kings. Do people really not understand the impact of changing time zones?

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