Cheetahs and Kings heading north to European Pro 12 rugby

30 June 2017 - 11:06 By Craig Ray
A defeated Cheetahs team with Ox Nche on the ground and Francois Venter (L) during the Super Rugby match against Highlanders at Toyota Stadium on May 05, 2017 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
A defeated Cheetahs team with Ox Nche on the ground and Francois Venter (L) during the Super Rugby match against Highlanders at Toyota Stadium on May 05, 2017 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Image: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

Although the official announcement of which two South African Super Rugby franchises will be axed is set for next Friday‚ sources have confirmed the Southern Kings and Cheetahs are gone.

And they will be joining the European Pro 12 competition (which is likely to change its name to Pro 14) as early as this September. The competition features the likes of Irish giants Leinster and Munster‚ Cardiff Blues from Wales and the Glasgow Warriors from Scotland.

The introduction of the two SA teams into Europe’s Pro 12 competition could also mark the beginning of the end of the Sanzaar (South Africa‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina Rugby)) alliance in its current form.

Reports have been leaked that the deal has been done and TimesLIVE has ascertained that not only are two South African teams set to join the tournament‚ but a healthy split of broadcast rights has also been negotiated.

And that’s not all. Last month Sanzaar had an emergency meeting (via conference call) to try and unscramble the egg that is the culling of three Super Rugby teams‚ mainly to humour Australia.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) faces legal action from the Melbourne Rebels and possibly the Western Force if one of those teams is cut from Super Rugby at the end of the current season.

The difficulty for the ARU is that the deal was decided by Sanzaar before the ARU had fully worked it through with its franchises.

SA Rugby went to the London meeting in April with a clear mandate and a planned course of action knowing two teams were likely to be on the chopping block. They had a contingency plan with the Pro 12 in place. The ARU went with nothing but hope.

The upshot is that the ARU are now desperately trying to find a way to retain five teams to avoid an unseemly legal battle‚ even though Australian rugby cannot sustain four franchises‚ let alone five.

Which brings us back to the Pro 12. The Cheetahs and the Kings are not unhappy about developments because they will still earn good money from broadcast rights (paid in pounds)‚ have less travel and probably a better chance of success.

Insiders at both unions have suggested they will be financially and physically better off than they are in Super Rugby.

The fissures in Sanzaar are developing into a cavernous void. South African franchises are coming round to the idea that they might be better served in a different competition‚ happy to leave New Zealand and Australia to entertain each other.

The Cheetahs and Kings might suddenly find players approaching them for contracts to extricate themselves from arduous Super Rugby duty.

The argument that SA teams are better off playing against NZ teams because they are the benchmark of rugby excellence is questionable. The gulf in class appears to be widening despite regular competition against NZ teams.

NZ rugby is also strong because of its relationship with SA. NZ is propped up by the vast sums of television money earned via Sanzaar‚ which is underpinned by a strong TV viewership emanating from SA.

Without it‚ NZ wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its top players and very soon a player brain drain would have a negative impact on their rugby as well.

In terms of Sanzaar‚ the battle lines are quite simple – NZ brings the best quality and SA brings the audience and therefore the most money. Australia brings very little.

A move into Europe by SA teams will damage Sanzaar’s equilibrium and have a huge impact on NZ and to a lesser extent‚ Australia.

But the deal is done and SA’s first steps towards Europe are a reality. It’s only a matter of time before this move kills off the Sanzaar consortium as we know it. And for many‚ it’s not a moment too soon.

- TimesLIVE