The landmark expansion of the Pro12 was finally confirmed today, together with an official explanation on the format of the tournament, as well as details of European qualification.
The announcement ends weeks of speculation as to whether a conference system would be adopted, and whether the South African teams will be involved in the European Champions and Challenge Cup tournaments.
As had been rumoured, the tournament will now be split into two conferences of seven teams. Each conference is made up of two Welsh teams, two Irish teams, and one team each from Scotland, Italy and South Africa. Teams will play a round robin of fixtures against the other six teams in their own conference, plus one game (either home or away) against all seven teams in the other conference. There had been concerns that the format would sacrifice certain high profile derby matches in Wales and Ireland, but an additional two rounds of matches have been added to ensure those games remain. To account for those extra rounds, The Scots, Italians and South Africans will face each other a total of three times during the season – bragging rights at stake, or what?
As for European qualification, it has been confirmed the South African sides will not be involved at this initial stage. Therefore, the top three sides in each conference at the end of the season will qualify for the Champions Cup, along with whichever fourth-placed team has the highest points tally (all discounting the SA sides).
I absolutely love this new format, and I absolutely love the expansion to include the Cheetahs and the Kings from South Africa. This cross-border competition has just got even more vibrant and exciting, and with the vision to expand into the southern hemisphere, this is a massive statement of the ambition of the Pro14.
Chief Executive of the tournament, Martin Anayi: “The arrival of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings marks a bold and exciting new chapter for the Guinness PRO14 as a global rugby Championship.
“South Africa is a rugby powerhouse of over 55 million people. These teams already operate to the high standards demanded by Super Rugby and they will add to the quality of our tournament.
“This is a natural evolution for the Championship… and we aim to be at the forefront of the game’s growth around the world.”
My dream is to see a world club competition launched at some point in the future, and with this announcement, it feels a little bit closer today. I truly believe this new chapter in the competition will be a resounding success, and I am so excited for the new season to start!
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