Guinness PRO14 boss Martin Anayi has played down the possibility of a British and Irish League being set-up during the CVC Capital Partners era, instead suggesting that expansion in South Africa is a more likely route for the five-nation tournament.

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It was last Friday when it was confirmed that investment group CVC would take a 28 per cent stake in PRO14 in a deal worth £120million. This followed CVC’s £200m deal for a 27 per cent piece of the Gallagher Premiership in December 2018. There has since been speculation that a foundation has now been laid for the future amalgamation of the two leagues.  

PRO14 chief Anayi doesn’t believe this will happen, although he doesn’t 100 per cent rule it out. Speaking in a Q&A with walesonline.co.uk about last week’s announcement which is worth about £30m to the four unions (Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales), PRO14 CEO Anayi said: “For us, it’s about growing the PRO14, developing it and making it a thriving competition in its own right.

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“We play the English already in Europe. Our job is to run 33 weekends per year of league and European rugby. All of that revenue goes into a central company now and we can distribute that out to our unions and teams. Having a South African element to that is really important financially and competitively.

“I think that’s how CVC have looked at this. They are an investor now in Premiership rugby and the PRO14 and through that have an interest in how EPCR grows. So I think it would be a difficult thing overnight just to switch that off. If you have a British and Irish League, what do you do with Europe? That’s the reality.

“CVC have invested for a reason and I wouldn’t say that’s to close off potential avenues of the game becoming more vibrant in different countries. I can’t see them rolling back from that, but you never know.

“The British and Irish League is something that has been talked about for years. The execution of it is where it becomes difficult. The English are quite happy with their league, we have got a European Cup, we are very happy with that. There are only a certain amount of weekends in a year.

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“A British and Irish League has just never been the thing that has made the most sense practically or from a revenue point of view. That’s not to say that it won’t at some point in the future. But the direction of travel is in a different direction at this stage. We quite like where we are going at the moment.”

Having allowed the Italians entry back in 2010, PRO12 then became PRO14 in 2017 when it invited two South African teams into the fold, an expansion that could be repeated. “We have always been very interested in South Africa. We like them and see them as a key part of our future,” continued Anayi. 

“The tournament works well at the moment but could work better if you could add teams to it. So that’s one avenue potentially. There’s also the potential of a World Club Cup every four years and there’s a global season discussion going on at the moment.”

Regarding the conclusion of the suspended 2019/20 season, the CEO admitted there was no scope to fit in the backlog of all eights rounds of regular season matches, but he believed there was still a chance hold some matches and determine a champion. 

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“What’s most likely is we will have some form of truncated end to the league season, with some derby games and some playoff games, as many as we can get in depending on how long we’ve got available to us.”

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