PRO 14 will ask high standards of Cheetahs and Kings

28 August 2017 - 14:41 By Craig Ray
Cheetahs director of rugby and current Springbok attack coach Franco Smith. File photo.
Cheetahs director of rugby and current Springbok attack coach Franco Smith. File photo.
Image: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images

Cheetahs director of rugby and current Springbok attack coach Franco Smith believes that South Africans will be pleasantly surprised by the standard and style of rugby played in PRO 14.

Smith believes that structural‚ tactical and commercial improvements over the past decade in Europe have ensured that the gap between the north and south is now closed.

The Cheetahs and Kings will be on uncertain ground when they make their debuts in the European tournament this weekend against Ulster and the Scarlets respectively.

Just as the two SA teams will be strangers to the best clubs from Wales‚ Ireland‚ Scotland and Italy‚ so too are those teams alien to the Cheetahs and Kings.

The Cheetahs are also currently top of the Currie Cup standings after six rounds but will now prioritise the PRO 14‚ while still competing locally.

It’s going to be a tough balancing act to try and do both tournaments justice‚ especially after coming out of a grueling Super Rugby campaign as well.

“This tournament will be tough on the SA teams because of those physiological challenges and also for the players to adapt to new environments‚” Smith said.

“There will be a short break around Christmas and then they will come back and have to travel to the freezing cold northern hemisphere in January. It will be a learning curve for us‚ but a good one. “However‚ these are exciting challenges and we are pioneers in this tournament‚ which is brilliant.” Smith also praised the standard of PRO 14 rugby.

Ireland’s Munster and Leinster are both former European Cup winners while the Scarlets from Wales are the defending PRO 14 champions after beating Munster in last year’s final.

“I believe South Africans will be surprised by the type of rugby played in PRO 14‚” Smith said.

“British and Irish rugby has undergone enormous changes this century to try and develop better skills.

“A lot of money has spent on building indoor training centres and creating much better playing and training surfaces. There are at least three artificial pitches used for matches.

“They have learnt how to use a wet ball and play positive rugby. Their skill sets have developed massively because of the time and money put in. We saw evidence of this in how well the British & Irish Lions performed in New Zealand.”

PRO 14 chief executive Martin Anayi said the stats underlined PRO 14s assertion that it is one of the best leagues in the world.

“We pride ourselves in the quality of the PRO 14 and World Rugby stats last year showed that the tournament had the most ball in play‚ most tries per game and most attacking style‚” Anayi said.

“We have two of the biggest clubs in the world in Leinster and Munster in terms of support base and then there are great clubs such as the Scarlets and Glasgow.

“We want to be that point of difference‚ we want to be an attractive proposition and bring in a new fan base.

"We see ourselves as different to other competitions in Europe because we play a different brand not hindered by promotion/relegation.”