Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union have confirmed that the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings will join an expanded Guinness PRO14 tournament in time for the upcoming 2017/18 season.
A long‐term strategic agreement has been signed by both parties which will allow the participation of two South African franchises in the renamed Guinness PRO14 Championship.
The agreement means that the Championship will take place across the northern and southern hemispheres and marks the first phase of expansion as the Guinness PRO14 becomes a truly global tournament.
Celtic Rugby have gone to great lengths to make sure that all current home and away Derby games are protected, saying that these fixtures are sacrosanct to the tournament and those tribal rivalries are just one element of what makes the Guinness PRO14 so special. With a new format, new teams and new audiences the Guinness PRO14 – which leads World Rugby statistics for Positive Play – will hit even greater heights in 2017/18.
The addition of the Cheetahs and the Kings will require the Championship to introduce a new Conference format as a league format is not suited to a 14‐team cross‐border tournament.
The Guinness 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.
Guinness PRO14 Conference table
|CONFERENCE A||CONFERENCE B|
- Each conference will contain 7 teams with an equal split of teams from each union
- Every team to play each other at least once
- All Home and Away derby fixtures will remain in place
- 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)
- The Guinness PRO14 Final Series will now include Quarter‐Finals allowing six clubs 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 less than the current format.
- These Rounds will be made up from a combination of: 12 Home & Away games in your team’s conference ‐ seven Home OR Away games against each team from the other conference
- An additional two Rounds to ensure all derby fixtures are played home & away (this means Scottish, Italian, South African clubs play three derbies)
With the campaign due to begin in the first or second week of September, the transformation from a Celtic and Italian division to a global one is set to make for compelling viewing.