The much-mooted revamp of the Pro 14 was finally confirmed this afternoon. The current Guinness Pro14 rugby season will finish in March, as four new South African teams have joined a 16-team Rainbow Cup, which will take place from April to June.
The 2020-2021 Pro14 final will take place on the 27th March, before the Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Bulls move to European Rugby.
The format of this competition will be two groups of eight, while the top teams in each group meet in the final. There will be two Irish, two South African, two Welsh and one team from Italy and Scotland in each group.
On April 17, 2021, the #GuinnessPRO14RainbowCup will kick-off and introduce @BlueBullsRugby, @LionsRugbyCo, @TheSharksZA and @THESTORMERS and their World Cup winning @Springboks 🌈🏆
Full story ➡️ https://t.co/QqvZWfDchP pic.twitter.com/O9A2QM3BHN
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) December 23, 2020
When the two top teams meet in the final, the side that got the most points in their group will get to play host to that game.
The Pro14 rankings at the end of 16 rounds of games, will determination qualifications for the 2021/2022 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions
Qualification for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup in the 2021/22 season will be decided by the Pro14 rankings after those 16 rounds. The games will be shown on Eir Sport and TG4.
South Africa head coach and former Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, praised this move, when speaking back in September.
“The first benefit is that as a fan, you’ll be watching the game in the same time zone. You’ll watch it in the afternoon, have a braai and a few beers with mates. It makes a difference.
"For us as coaches and players, you can get on a plane, sleep on it and actually play the next day. That’s nice, for broadcasting and for your own planning. There are regular flights that you can get everywhere.”
CEO of Pro14 Rugby Martin Anayi welcomed these developments.
"At a time where our sport has faced its greatest challenge, we have promising news about an innovative solution to partner with South African rugby ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour.
“It was vital that we worked with all parties to ensure our 12 teams had a clear road towards European qualification. With a Lions tour in South Africa to come it is hard to think of anything better to whet the appetite than the best players from the Celtic regions competing against World Cup-winning Springboks in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup.”
Stormers have six South African 2019 World Cup winners within their ranks, with Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Herschel Jantjies all in the World Cup final squad. The Sharks contingent is Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, while Malcolm Marx is the sole Lions representative.
The South African sides may use this as preparation for the 2021 series against the British and Irish Lions. One would be forgiven if they struggled to understand the format of this new competition. Not for the faint-hearted!