South African Super Rugby sides the Cheetahs and Kings could be playing in the European Champions Cup in the future as well as an expanded Guinness PRO12.
South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux has confirmed that the former Super Rugby franchises, the Cheetahs and Kings, are looking to play in the northern hemisphere “as soon as possible and at the first opportunity we can get”.
Jurie has confirmed that talks are at an advanced stage with Guinness Pro 12 bosses to include the two teams in the 2017/18 tournament and an announcement on how an expanded PRO14 will work is expected very soon.
It is believed the deal could be worth up to an extra £450,000 each for Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams with the Welsh clubs having to forego their annual participation in the Anglo-Welsh Cup to accommodate the four extra rounds of league games.
“I can confirm that negotiations in terms of competitions in the north that are extremely far down the line. Negotiations are going pretty well and the teams could play in the same competition and they could play in more than one competition,” Jurie told reporters in South Africa.
“In terms of the reality of where we are, I think we are making the right strategic move, I really do. For the last seven years that I have been involved in South African rugby every second month people have been preaching that we should leave Sanzaar and go north and play international teams.
“It is the same time zone, it is an easier flight it is less travel and it is better for our players. Everyone has been advocating that but we have never had proof of concept of that on any level.
“We don’t know if it is going to work in terms of viewership, spectators – are people interested in seeing us playing in Toulon and Toulouse?
“We look at the viewership numbers of South Africans on the Sunday games that are taking place in the European Rugby Championship and the numbers are scary in terms of their growth, so we have obviously got some form of strategic incline that that might work.
“Second of all, we go on an end of season tour every year and the first two matches our players are really struggling in terms of adapting to the circumstances in those countries. Having two teams in the north affords us for the first time the opportunity to actually look at our own structures in possibly in terms of spreading of our players, choosing make fit players.
“We can choose all the fast and quick players for the southern hemisphere tournaments and the bigger, more aggressive and tactically more astute players for the northern hemisphere. We can actually get our franchises to work together and spread the players across the board as New Zealand do and make sure we are playing players in the right environment.
“Look at the friendlies that our franchises have played against the European sides. The quality of rugby is high. People talk about the different leagues, but when you look at the last couple of European Rugby Championships, Saracens have won twice and there are three Irish teams in there – the quality of rugby in the north should not be underestimated and their national teams are proving that at this stage.”
In seeking the best of both hemispheres, South African rugby bosses believe they can retain more players and provide a more appealing package to their armchair viewers. A change in tournament might also bring fans back to the grounds.
But Jurie also knows the northern option is no silver bullet for the problems facing the game in his country.
“We need to get the Rand equal to the Euro or we need to pay more. The retention of our players is top of mind and nobody will be jeopardised by playing in another competition,” he added.
“We would rather have a player playing in a South African franchise in the northern hemisphere than have a South African playing for a northern hemisphere team in the north. If we can do that then the player gets two things – he is still in the South African picture and can still be selected.
“We have got the rule about 30 games but there is every indication that that will become more rather than less. We are asking our players to stay in the country and we are saying that you now have the option to play in the north or the south depending on your own circumstances.”