Celtic Rugby confirm the addition of South Africa's Southern Kings & Cheetahs as new PRO14 league splits into two conferences of seven teams.
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.
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.
- 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)
- 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
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.
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:
- 2 Irish teams; 2 Welsh; 1 Italian; 1 Scottish, 1 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.
TRAVEL AND PLAYER WELFARE
In order to provide travelling teams to South Africa with the best possible preparation, games will be fixed for Saturdays. This will allow visiting teams to have a seven-day turnaround leading into these fixtures including five ‘clean days’ that do not involve any travel.
Flights between Europe and South Africa are overnight which will allow players to rest during the journey while training facilities and accommodation venues are up to the standards expected in Super Rugby.
For teams who are scheduled to play twice in South Africa, the aim will be for them to play back-to-back games on a ‘mini-tour’ in one round trip. Where the fixture list prevents this, games in South Africa for those clubs will be spread across a reasonable period of time.