There are reports that South African teams could join an expanded Pro14 as early as the end of this month in an effort to boost the competitiveness of the league.
Earlier this year, the four South African Super Rugby franchises not currently in the Pro14 (Sharks, Stormers, Lions and the Bulls) announced their intention to join the northern hemisphere competition next year amid seemingly stalling negotiations between them and the Super Rugby organisers.
Should that move come off, it would mean fresh competition for the existing Pro14 teams, something which Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) Performance Director David Nucifora welcomes.
So far this season, Irish teams have fared far better in the table than the Welsh, Scottish and Italian teams, with Ulster, Munster and Leinster unbeaten in their matches to date.
Of those matches, many of them have been comfortable victories, with Munster’s 54-3 win over Zebre and Ulster’s 43-14 away triumph against Edinburgh last weekend yet more proof of the disparity in performance levels.
“As you well know, (we’ve) been speaking with Pro14 now for a period of time to try find solutions,” Nucifora said.
“The IRFU would be very supportive of South Africa entering the Pro14 competition, and potentially making it a Pro16.
“We think that Irish Rugby needs to be ambitious, we think that the Pro14 needs to be ambitious, and we think that having those four, strong South African teams enter our competition will help develop the game in the Pro14. It will help develop Irish Rugby, it will help develop Irish players, by stretching us, by challenging us, by challenging both our teams and challenging our players.
“I think that’s what high performing athletes want, they want to be challenged. Hopefully the right commercial outcomes can be achieved for the South Africans to become a part of the Pro14, to join and make it a Pro16.”
Time will surely tell if the four South African franchises will make the switch to the Pro14 next year, but it does hold some logic to the argument of a need for greater competition within the league.
Leinster have been the dominant force in recent years, securing their seventh title and third in a row last year, with Irish provinces winning 12 titles in 19 seasons.