PRO14 chief promises expansion 'only just beginning'
Celtic rugby chiefs will publish an initial 13-week fixture list for an expanded PRO14 championship in the coming days and, after confirming the expected addition of two new South African sides yesterday, they may have their eyes on further expansion.
PRO14 CEO Martin Anayi hailed the "astonishing achievement" as a "golden opportunity" for the championship and declared that "the PRO14 will create more competition and present more vibrancy than ever before on a journey we believe is only just beginning."
Another South African side is believed to be interested in spreading their wings north to join the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings as their Union's interest in the current Super Rugby structure continues to dwindle.
And Celtic Rugby bosses have also not dimmed their ambitions to add outfits from further afield, with lines of communication still open towards attaching a North American franchise to the competition.
"The arrival of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings marks a bold and exciting new chapter for the PRO14 as a global rugby Championship," said Anayi.
"As a country, 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.
"Our Unions and World Rugby are committed to broadening the game and this move is evidence of our ambition to lead the way in growing the club game beyond our own borders, which in turn will unlock the true potential of this tournament."
The latest iteration of the much-maligned championship, which lags far behind the English and French leagues in terms of monetary revenue, will at least boost the coffers by 50 per cent.
Anayi will now seek to boost the current TV revenues which last stood at a mere €11m, compared to the near €100m and €50m that the French and English leagues respectively draw in.
Despite the addition of two more sides, the championship will actually feature less regular season games - 21, down from 22 - as the 14 sides will be split into two conferences of seven in a geographical split. Despite the fact that the four Irish sides will be split between the two conferences, they sought a non-negotiable guarantee that the existing number of home and away interprovincial fixtures will be retained.
South African sides will not be allowed to qualify for Europe although that is a situation which may change in the coming years should this bold experiment prove to be a success.
Much will depend on the strength of outfits that the new teams, also-rans last season, can muster, especially as the contract South Africa have with New Zealand and Australia stipulates that their home-based internationals cannot play in another competition apart from Super Rugby.