Finally, confirmation has finally arrived regarding what our new Pro14 championship will look like.
Change can be uncomfortable, stressful, and can cause panic which can manifest itself in an unwelcome attitude. It can also be a very positive thing which can instil excitement and hope. So, are we all panicking or are we all excited, is the Pro14 doomed to failure or is it the right move at the right time? There will certainly be some merit to both sides of the argument but I’m going to focus on why this new format is potentially a great thing.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings were recently booted out of the Super Rugby league with no other place to go. This was mainly due to lack of funds within the league and the two teams were among the few struggling teams over the past couple of seasons. The Pro12 organisers (Celtic Rugby) decided it would be a great opportunity to introduce some new teams into the league, along with some extra cash! And so the Pro14 was born.
We now have a league of 14 teams which will be split into two conferences (A and B) consisting of 7 teams. The makeup of each conference is determined by team rankings from previous seasons and then balanced out. All teams within each conference will play each other home and away. Once that completes, each team from one conference will play all teams from the other conference (home/away match ups are to be determined). Then there will also be some additional games at the end to account for the derby matches eg; Leinster v Munster, Connacht v Ulster, Ospreys v Scarlets, Glasgow v Edinburgh etc. There will be 21 rounds, one less than the previous format. At the end of the league stages, the top finishing team from both conferences will qualify for the semi finals with home advantage. The 2nd and 3rd placed teams from both conferences will qualify for the quarter finals. The winners of the quarter finals will then of course qualify for the semi finals against the two other qualifiers. The top 3 teams from both conferences will automatically qualify for the Champions Cup (however, Cheetahs and Southern Kings are excluded for now). The 4th placed team with the highest number of points will make up the final team to qualify for the Champions Cup. Does that all make sense? Excellent!!
Now lets take a look at what the conferences like for the 2017/18 season. Fixture dates and times will be released next week. These conferences will also change each season:
As a Leinster supporter, my first thought is that Conference A is a harder pool. Munster, Connacht, Glasgow and Ospreys will be strongest contenders in there. Meanwhile, Leinster has a chance of gaining some revenge on Pro12 champions Scarlets in Conference B, while Ulster cannot be overlooked. I’m going to make a cheeky prediction on how the two conferences will finish:
In my opinion, I think the new format and the introduction of the new teams is great for the league. The Pro12 needed something to make the competition more competitive and bring it closer to the standard we see in the Aviva Premiership and Top14. Of course, the Pro14 cannot compete with either of the other leagues from a financial standpoint but with the inclusion of the Cheetahs and Kings comes extra revenue to the all teams involved. This new format can only be a good thing for the future. It will of course take a little time to get our heads around the new format, derby match setup, conference A vs conference B match ups etc. but it certainly makes this competition a lot more interesting and it will be great to play against some new teams. Plus, there’s the opportunity to take a nice trip to South Africa for an away game!
Martin Anayi, CEO of the Guinness PRO14, said:
“Our clubs, players and coaches are already excited about the opportunity to play in South Africa in front of new crowds, new stadiums and take on these exciting new tests.
“From a logistical point of view, we know that travelling long distance will be nothing unusual to the South African sides, and indeed our core international players, but it is a new departure for our clubs. As such we have been in a dialogue with performance directors across all participating unions to ensure that player welfare is not compromised.
“We will work closely with travel partners to ensure that players are provided the best possible times and conditions when flying to and from South Africa to make sure their preparation is unaffected.
“In addition, we will welcome members of SA Rugby’s Premier Panel of full-time referees who will join our stable of elite officials. The 2017/18 season will bring the Guinness PRO14 to new destinations, create more competition and present more vibrancy than ever before on a journey we believe is only just beginning.”
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby said:
“This development is as exciting as the launch of Super Rugby itself back in 1996,” said Roux. “It marks the start of a new adventure for rugby in South Africa with a number of exciting opportunities. It will not be without its challenges in aligning with a competition in a different part of the calendar and in very different playing conditions; but it is also a fantastic opportunity for South African rugby to widen our rugby horizons.
“This time next year South African provincial teams will be competing in 11 countries on five continents. We believe the Toyota Cheetahs’ and Kings’ participation will be good for the competition and good for the teams.”
All in all, bring it on! Check our Fixtures page next week for the dates and times for the first few rounds of the new competition!