Rugby Sport Wales

Pro 12 becomes 14 in South African expansion

By Rich Jones

It has been a huge winter for newly-rebranded Pro14, with the ambitious expansion of the league earning plenty of headlines across the rugby world.

Originally created as the Celtic League back in 2001 with teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the tournament introduced Italian teams in 2010. The move has now been made to bring two South African sides, Southern Kings and Cheetahs, into the competition after they lost their places in the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition following a restructure.

The news has been met with mixed reaction, with trips of over 20,000 miles for some fixtures certainly creating a degree of concern.

Bosses have worked hard to address schedule concerns with a split into two conferences and a five-day travel-free spell before any fixtures in South Africa.

Derby fixtures between teams from the same country have been protected, and there certainly appears to have been plenty of effort to find the most appealing and workable fixture list possible for all clubs.

It is hoped that the expansion of the Pro14 will attract a wider audience from across the globe, and it is already being earmarked as the first step of a global expansion, which could incorporate teams from countries such as Georgia or elsewhere in the future.

There does however seem to be early concerns regarding the number of fans lost by the South African clubs following their move away from Super Rugby.

Pictures of an almost entirely empty Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth as the Southern Kings lost to Leinster in the first ever Pro14 game in South Africa quickly went viral.

There was a crowd in excess of 20,000 who turned out to support the Cheetahs in their home opener with Zebre, in which they earned their first win of the season.

It is clear that the South African public may take some time to buy into the concept of their sides playing rugby in the Northern Hemisphere.

From the perspective of the remaining sides in the competition, the move can be viewed as an exciting opportunity to ply their trade against two new sides.

They will face a different brand of rugby that they are not used to facing from the Southern Hemisphere, whilst getting the opportunity to visit a new part of the world in the process.

Whilst it has initially been a tough introduction for the two teams, they are already showing flashes of their potential.

Both have pieced together their squads from regional sides at short notice after plans were finalised at the final hour.

After starting at an initial disadvantage, they can certainly be expected to become a threat to the Welsh sides in the competition by the latter stages of the season.

Some may feel the changes are destined for disaster, but one has to commend the efforts made by Pro14 chiefs to grow the game and appeal to a wider audience.

Sports bigwigs from leagues across the globe are sure to be watching with interest to see how this expansion develops and view whether there is scope for similar moves in other sports.

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The marketplace of sport is an increasingly globalised business. The Pro14 are the first major sports league to have truly grasped this and taken it to the next level, and you would be foolish to believe nobody else will be looking at opportunities to follow suit.

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