Guinness Pro 14 Rugby at Kieran’s
The 2017-18 Guinness Pro14 rugby competition began its 17th year of competition on the first weekend of September. It was originally called the Celtic League; however, with addition of teams from Italy the league was renamed 4 years ago. Guinness is in its third year of a sponsorship deal that continues to highlight some of the best rugby in Europe. The most exciting change this season is the addition of two teams from South Africa.
The original Pro12 will be expanded to include South African side Southern Kings and Cheetahs from September, organizers have confirmed. The expanded tournament will be called the Pro14 and see the teams split into two conferences of seven made up of two Welsh, two Irish and one team each from Scotland, Italy and South Africa. The conferences have been decided based on last season’s results. Cheetahs and Kings will play their home games in South Africa.
They will play only Saturdays, and there will be five travel-free days before matches. The first round of matches is due to be played on the weekend of 1-3 September, with the first fixtures to be announced on 7 August. It is understood the addition of the two new teams will bring in an extra £6m a year in revenue. “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 Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi.
“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.” The South African teams lost their places in the southern hemisphere Super Rugby, which is cutting from 18 teams to 15, at the end of last season.
Last season’s tournament was won by Scarlets, who beat Munster in the play-off final in Dublin.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, says the decision for South African team to play in a northern hemisphere tournament was groundbreaking. “This development is as exciting as the launch of Super Rugby itself back in 1996,” he said. “It will not be without its challenges in aligning with a competition in a different part of the calendar and in very different playing conditions; but it is also a fantastic opportunity for South African rugby to widen our rugby horizons.
“We believe the Toyota Cheetahs’ and Kings’ participation will be good for the competition and good for the teams.”
It is the latest change to a tournament which has seen many amendments since it started life as the Celtic League back in 2001. Back then there were 15 teams competing and it rose as high as 16 before the creation of the Welsh regions in 2003-04. It has been as low as 10 teams between 2007 and 2010 when two Italian teams were introduced.
So what can we expect in 2017-18?
The Southern Kings are based in Port Elizabeth and play at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which was built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
The Cheetahs are based at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, which has a capacity of 48,000. The South Africans have committed to a six-season deal and will deliver about £6m per season to the new league, mostly through their domestic television rights. It is a 50% increase on what the Pro12 currently makes from TV rights. The existing 12 teams will receive £500,000 more which will help cover travel costs.
The teams will be split into two seven-team conferences – two Irish, two Welsh and one each from Scotland, Italy and South Africa. The teams in each conference will play each other home and away. All teams from conference A play all teams from conference B once. That’s another seven games, taking the total to 19.
Additionally, each club would also play derby fixtures against teams from the same nation but in different conferences, providing a total of 21 league games. That keeps the six derby matches for Welsh regions and Irish provinces and will require Edinburgh and Glasgow, Zebre and Treviso and the Kings and Cheetahs to face each other three times in the regular season.
The Welsh showcase Judgement Day – which sees two derbies played back-to-back at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium – is set to continue.
The fixtures have not yet been released with the season set to start on the first weekend of September. The first 13 rounds of fixtures through to January will be released early August.
Who are in the Conferences?
The conferences were based on the standings from last season’s Pro12 table, and they will be reset each season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
How will they decide the winners?
A play-off system: The top side from each conference will advance to the semi-finals and will have home advantage.
Teams placed second and third in each conference play each other to determine the other two semi-finalists. The teams ranked second in each conference will have home advantage.
The play-offs will work over a three-week period after the regular season has been completed.
The two South African sides are not eligible for the Champions Cup at the moment.
The top three non-South African clubs from each conference will qualify for the Champions Cup, while the non-South African team with the highest points total outside of those six teams across both conferences will claim the final Champions Cup place. The other five European sides will go into the Challenge Cup.
It promises to be an innovative and interesting concept for the competition and will be sure to generate a massive amount of interest. Kieran’s will endeavor to show had much as possible of Pro14 rugby in the coming months.