On Tuesday 1st August 2017, the biggest change in Celtic rugby since the introduction of the Italian sides in 2010 was announced. Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who both recently lost their places in the Southern Hemisphere's Super Rugby competition, have been added, forming a new 14 team league.
A long-term strategic agreement has been signed which will allow the participation of the two South African sides in the renamed Guinness PRO14 Championship, alongside the current 4 teams from Wales, 4 from Ireland, and 2 each from Scotland and Italy.
The addition of the Cheetahs and Kings will require a new Conference format, as the current league format is not suitable for the 14-team cross-border tournament.
The Pro14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allows for the new clubs to be added into the Championship without need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
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:
Additionally, for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
Glasgow Warriors (Scotland)
Cardiff Blues (Wales)
Zebre Rugby Club (Italy)
Toyota Cheetahs (South Africa)
Benetton Rugby (Italy)
Southern Kings (South Africa)
To maintain competitive balance the Conferences will be reseteach season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
Each conference will contain 7 teams with an equal split of teams from each union, and every team will have 21 regular season games.
Every team to play each other at least once, meaning there no will be no issues like those currently experience in Super Rugby, where finalists the Lions played a New Zealand team for the first time at the semi-final stage.
Despite rumours that the South African sides would play some matches in London, it has been confirmed that all their home games will be in South Africa, and they will play only on Saturdays, with five travel-free days before matches.
All Home & Away derby fixtures will remain in place, meaning 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). No news yet on what will happen to the 1872 Cup, but a fair assumption is that it will still be based on the aggregate score, rather than a best-of-3 scenario.
For the first time, the Pro14 will include Quarter-Finals, giving six clubs the chance 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 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 HomeORAway 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.
So, all clear?! Let us know your comments on the new Pro14 in the section below!