Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber and Scotland boss Gregor Townsend have all welcomed the prospect of an expanded ‘Pro16’ following the pool draw for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Reigning champions South Africa have been drawn against Ireland and Scotland in Pool B, alongside two teams yet to be confirmed, one from the Asia-Pacific region and one from Europe.
And the pool is likely to have a very familiar feel to it with talks surrounding bringing South African franchises the Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks into an expanded Pro16 said to be at an “advanced stage,” possibly even getting rubber-stamped as soon as the early New Year.
The quality of the Pro14 has been called into question in recent weeks, particularly given the form of the four Irish provinces.
Defending champions Leinster, unbeaten in the competition since April 2019, have recorded seven bonus point wins on the bounce since the current campaign began, with the four provinces winning 26 from a total of 28 games.
The hope is that the inclusion of the four South African teams will lead to more competition and improve the overall quality of the league.
And speaking after today’s World Cup draw the three coaches in charge of the confirmed Pool B teams said they are all fully behind the idea of a new-look ‘Pro16’.
“Obviously everyone is aware of all the different ramifications that could happen in the New Year,” Farrell said.
“Hopefully, for us, we want to play against the best as much as we possibly can. We want our players to be able to do that. And for the big teams, the big provinces in South Africa to join the Pro14, I know there is talk of a Pro16, [that is] is the way we would like to see it go.”
Nienaber, who has experience of the Pro14 from his days working as Rassie Erasmus’ defence coach at Munster, says he had no issues with the quality of the league during his time at Thomond Park.
“Having coached there [Ireland] before, I think it would be very good for us,” he said.
“I was unbelievably surprised when we first started coaching [at Munster], it was the Pro12 back that, probably I would say one of the fiercest contested competitions in all facets: every set-piece, breakdown, skill level. So I think it would be a big step for us.
'It’s the type of challenge we want going into a World Cup year'https://t.co/mkS8I7d7PQ
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“For our local franchises, Super Rugby is a little bit different, so it will be a big step up for them in terms of the tactics and the weather, the different playing surfaces, different referees from different countries that you have to manage. I think it’s probably, and I’m not talking down any other competitions, but I think it’s very close to Test match rugby, so I’m super excited for our players to join a Pro16 or Pro14, it will be phenomenal.”
Townsend also offered his support for the idea after a weekend in which the strength of both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors once again came under scrutiny.
“Any competition that gets our players playing closer to international rugby will help their development for us having success at Test level,” Townsend said.
“We have that through the current set-up of the Pro14, but if those four South African teams that are used to playing Super Rugby come into our competition, that will enhance the Pro14, [or] Pro16, and also we’ll get to experience a different type of rugby, in different conditions, that South Africa bring.”
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