Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union have today confirmed that the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will join an expanded Guinness PRO14 tournament in time for the upcoming 2017/18 season.
A long-term strategic agreement has been signed by both parties which will allow the participation of two South African franchises in the renamed Guinness PRO14 Championship.
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.
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.
We can also reassure supporters across the Championship that all current home and away Derby games have been protected – these fixtures are sacrosanct to the tournament and those tribal rivalries are just one element of what makes the Guinness PRO14 so special.
With a new format, new teams and new audiences the Guinness PRO14 – which leads World Rugby statistics for Positive Play – will hit even greater heights in 2017/18.
The addition of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will require the Championship to introduce a new Conference format as a league format is not suited to a 14-team cross-border tournament.
The Guinness PRO14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allows for the new clubs to be added into the Championship without need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
CEO of Guinness PRO14, Martin Anayi, welcomed both clubs to the Championship and described it as an historic chapter for the tournament as it begins the first phase of expansion.
"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,” 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. Expansion is in the DNA of the Championship and ever since the Celtic League kicked off in 2001 Cross Border competition has thrived.
"Being based across some of the most renowned hotbeds of rugby, the Championship has always been rife with international talent and last season we saw 270 internationals appear in the Guinness PRO12. Since then another 25 made their Test debuts in June while 27 of our players were on duty with the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand.
"This is a natural evolution for the Championship and not only will the calibre of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings grow audiences, interest and the commercial base for the tournament and our clubs, it is a move that also lays the foundations for years to come. The appeal of professional club rugby has never been greater and we aim to be at the forefront of the game's growth around the world,”
Glasgow Warriors (SRU)
Cardiff Blues (WRU)
Zebre Rugby Club (FIR)
Toyota Cheetahs (SA Rugby)
Benetton Rugby (FIR)
Southern Kings (SA Rugby)
- 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
The Conferences need to fulfil two criteria. First, there must be an equal number of teams from each union in both conferences. Secondly, there must be a competitive balance based upon the previous season's final placings that feed into union rankings.
To create an equal number of teams per union each conference will contain two Irish teams; two Welsh; one Italian; one Scottish and one South African. Additionally, for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
Please note: To maintain competitive balance the Conferences will be reset each season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
The regular season will consist of 21 Rounds, which is one game less than the previous format. These Rounds will be made up from a combination of:
- 12 Home & Away games in your team's conference
- 7 Home OR Away games against each team from the other conference
- An additional 2 Rounds to ensure all derby fixtures are played home & away (this means Scottish, Italian, South African clubs play three derbies)
- The fixture list has been drafted for all 21 rounds, Rounds 1-13 will be confirmed next week (commencing August 7) after the Championship's broadcast partners have made their selections for live television broadcasts and the clubs have been consulted.