Cheetahs, Kings start new Pro 14 journey
After weeks of speculation, the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings have formally been confirmed as participants in the Guinness Pro 14 after the Celtic League made the announcement yesterday.
The Cheetahs and Kings will join clubs from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in a 21-match regular season that has been split into two pools of seven teams each.
It starts in five weeks' time.
Traditionally, the top seven teams in the former Pro 12 qualified for the European Champions and Challenge Cups, but for the immediate future, the two South African teams were not eligible for those competitions.
The European games include teams from France and England and no agreement could be reached on how to incorporate the two South African teams, should they qualify, so a compromise was reached.
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said the decision to accept an invitation to play in the northern hemisphere was a groundbreaking move that added a new dimension to the South African season.
"This development is as significant as the launch of Vodacom 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... is also a fantastic opportunity for South African rugby to widen our playing horizons."
Cheetahs chief executive Harold Verster said: "There will be a steep learning curve for our coaches and players but we're in it to win it. This is a whole new ball game for rugby in South Africa and we're proud to be the trailblazers."
Andre Rademan, president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union, said: "The Kings have been through tough times on and off the field over recent years but we now have the chance to reclaim our status as one of the powerhouses of South African rugby."
The addition of the Cheetahs and Kings requires the championship to introduce a new conference format as a league format isn't suited to a 14-team cross-border event.
The Pro 14 will adopt a two-conference model thatallows for the new clubs to be added into the championship without the need to add extra rounds in 2017-2018.
The top three clubs from each conference will qualify for the Champions Cup.
CONFERENCE A: Cardiff Blues, Ospreys (both Wales), Munster, Connacht (both Ireland), Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Zebre Rugby Club (Italy) and Cheetahs.
CONFERENCE B: Leinster, Ulster (both Ireland), Scarlets, Dragons (both Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland), Benetton Rugby (Italy), and Kings.