South Africa’s four Super Rugby sides – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – are set to join Europe’s Pro14 competition by early next year.
That is the verdict from The Daily Telegraph, which revealed all four teams are looking for a competition to play in following the suspension of Super Rugby in March.
SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos has conceded the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively crushed any hope of the competition continuing in its current format.
Subsequently, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia already in negotiations to form their own competition from as early as next year.
That leaves the four South African sides without a league to partake in, but it appears a widely-discussed move into Europe is inching further to fruition following a South African Rugby Union General Council meeting on Friday.
The Telegraph reports that SARU chief executive Jurie Roux was “enthusiastic” about such a proposal after having already engaged in informal discussions with his Pro14 counterpart Martin Anayi.
It’s understood the lure of not having to travel across 11 time zones, as is the case in Super Rugby, and financial benefits of playing in the Pro14 are the key drivers behind a possible move to the Northern Hemisphere.
“The four Super Rugby sides are effectively looking for a tournament to play in,” a Telegraph insider said. “In terms of time zones, availability and the quality of competition, the Pro14 is the only realistic option.”
Should the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers expand the Pro14 to the Pro18, they would join fellow South African franchises the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings in a competition that also features four teams from Ireland and Wales, and two each from Scotland and Italy.
The Telegraph states that the trial of having South African sides in a European competition “has already worked well”, highlighting the lack of jet lag and cheaper travel to Britain compared to Australasia and Argentina as positives.
A lack of competitiveness has been an issue, however, with the financially-embattled Southern Kings registering just four wins in 55 games, while the Cheetahs haven’t made the play-offs since their debut campaign in 2017-18.
Regardless, The Telegraph indicates that hasn’t stopped a “loose plan” from being formulated about the future of the competition.
The plan would see the South African domestic season reshaped this year so that the Currie Cup would be held at the end of the year, with the results of the four Super Rugby sides counting towards their standing in the Pro14.
The European teams would then play each other for the remainder of the year before admitting the new South African sides into the competition in 2021, although how the league will be structured is yet to be worked through.
The Telegraph described the potential move as a “game-changer” that could bolster the competition’s annual £20 million broadcast revenue, and hinted at an imminent announcement from the Pro14 in the near future.
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