The Captains, Lionel Cronje of the Southern Kings, and Francois Venter (captain) of the Cheetahs.
DUBLIN - The Cheetahs and King will not be eligible to qualify for the European Champions or Challenge Cups despite their inclusion in an expanded Pro14.
A potentially ground-breaking transition into cross-hemisphere rugby was finally made official on Tuesday when it was confirmed that the Cheetahs and Kings are to become the newest members of a new-look Pro14 competition – featuring the leading clubs of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
While this move has been mooted for some time, one of the biggest questions hanging over whether the two South African sides – who voluntarily withdrew from Super Rugby participation in July – would be able to qualify for an elite European competition.
However, it was confirmed on Tuesday that the top three clubs from each conference (notably excluding SA teams) would 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.
So although the Kings and Cheetahs understandably expressed their excitement at entering into a new-look competition, the fact remains that the Pro12 (now the Pro14) is not the elite tournament in Europe.
That honour belongs to the Champions Cup, which includes cash-rich French powerhouse clubs and leading sides from the highly successful English Premiership.
It means that while the new Pro14 competition may have opened the door into the northern hemisphere, it’s unlikely to attract other top South African Super Rugby sides until there is the possibility of forming part of a top-tier European competition.
Nevertheless, the new Pro14 could serve as a significant development in professional rugby that sees that start of a ‘global season’ whereby competitions begin to be structured by time zones rather than hemispheres.
As it is, the new Pro14 competition structure will see the team split into two conferences of seven each, with every side set to play 21 regular-season games, while home and away derbies will remain in place.
In order to provide travelling teams to South Africa with the best possible preparation, games will be fixed for Saturdays. This will allow visiting teams to have a seven-day turnaround leading into these fixtures including five ‘clean days’ that do not involve any travel.
Flights between Europe and South Africa are overnight, which will allow players to rest during the journey, while training facilities and accommodation venues are up to the standards expected in Super Rugby.
For teams who are scheduled to play twice in South Africa, the aim will be for them to play back-to-back games on a ‘mini-tour’ in one round trip. Where the fixture list prevents this, games in South Africa for those clubs will be spread across a reasonable period of time.