Tournament organisers have confirmed that two South African teams will expand the Guinness Pro12 into a Pro14 this season – with the competition split into two conferences.
The Cheetahs, based in Bloemfontein, and the Southern Kings of Port Elizabeth are moving in, having been cut from Super Rugby earlier this year.
It means two conferences of seven teams, with the four Welsh regions split into either table.
The Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys will be in Conference A. The Scarlets and the Dragons will be in Conference B.
Teams will play each other home and away in their conference, but then be home or away against sides in the other conference.
But the current home and away derbies have been preserved – meaning the Welsh regions will continue to play their rivals twice each season.
- 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
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.
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, this 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.
Martin Anayi, CEO of the Guinness PRO14, said: “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,”
“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.
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