Amidst plenty of speculation, the Guinness PRO12 has officially changed names to the Guinness PRO14, with South African teams the Cheetahs and Southern Kings joining the restructured competition. An explanation video and full details can be found below.
A long-term strategic 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 global tournament.
This move will contribute to the drive for ever higher standards and provide greater resources to the clubs that will compete in the most testing environment the Championship has ever created.
Note: All current home and away Derby games have been protected.
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 PRO14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allow for the new clubs to be added into the Championship without need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
• 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.
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, 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.
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.
Martin Anayi, CEO of the Guinness PRO14, added: “Our clubs, players and coaches are already excited about the opportunity to play in South Africa in front of new crowds, new stadiums and take on these exciting new tests.
“From a logistical point of view, we know that travelling long distance will be nothing unusual to the South African sides, and indeed our core international players, but it is a new departure for our clubs. As such we have been in a dialogue with performance directors across all participating unions to ensure that player welfare is not compromised.
“We will work closely with travel partners to ensure that players are provided the best possible times and conditions when flying to and from South Africa to make sure their preparation is unaffected.
“In addition, we will welcome members of SA Rugby’s Premier Panel of full-time referees who will join our stable of elite officials. The 2017/18 season will bring the Guinness PRO14 to new destinations, create more competition and present more vibrancy than ever before on a journey we believe is only just beginning.”
The video below explains the format. What are your thoughts on the change?