New proposals could see two Super Rugby franchises join the PRO12, according to reports.
Super Rugby is due to be reduced from 18 to 15 teams once more next season, and two of the three teams who will be chopped from the southern hemisphere's premier club competition could potentially wind up alongside the Irish provinces in what was once the Celtic League.
South Africa will lose two sides - all but confirmed to be the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs - while Australia will ditch one of their own, with the Western Force recently forced to deny speculation they'll be cut from the Super Rugby setup.
It's the Port Elizabeth-based Kings and the Cheetahs of Bloemfontein, however, who one leading administrator wishes to see turn the PRO12 into the PRO14.
Former Southern Spears chief executive Tony McKeever has revealed that he has already pitched the idea of an interhemispheric link-up to PRO12 officials.
McKeever says South African Rugby needs to “accept the news and the fact that two teams are certainly going to be cut and move on, like right now."
I have already engaged the PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi and proposed he take these two teams and rebrand this as PRO14 and let the Cheetahs and Eastern Province Rugby be a part of this tournament, which starts in September.
Martin is a visionary and seeks to expand PRO12 into new markets and grow the PRO12 TV audiences and spectators. This is a perfect synergistic way to accomplish that with South African Rugby.
McKeever insists that the Port Elizabeth team should be rebranded as Eastern Province Rugby, because “the Kings brand is so tarnished and damaged beyond repair, like Chernobyl, that no sponsor or corporate would ever consider associating themselves with the Kings”.
This would rejuvenate the PRO12/14 tournament with excitement. The addition of two South African Super Rugby teams would increase TV viewership in Europe and South Africa and especially on-site spectator audiences coming to Bloemfontein and the (Nelson) Mandela Bay Stadium, to watch their teams play against teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, in this exciting tournament. It would be like the Cheetahs and EP Rugby each hosting six home 'Tests' a year.
By doing this, SA Rugby would send a potent message to SANZAAR - that they are not agonising over this and are the first of the ‘Big 3’ southern hemisphere teams to break ranks and go north and let that be a message to not mess with us anymore.
Personally, I think the PRO14 TV ratings will blow Super Rugby away and you might very well see a reversal of the exodus of players from South Africa and rather to these two South African PRO14 teams.
It is such an obvious solution to a decade old agonising conundrum that SA Rugby had to deal with and which has ripped the financial heart out of South African rugby.
As the saying goes, ‘out of disruption, comes innovation’. This is the way of the future of rugby in South Africa and it is fitting that the Cheetahs and EP Rugby should be the pioneers for this evolution of the game, certainly Harold Verster (Cheetahs managing director) and Rory Duncan (Cheetahs director of rugby) think so as well.
Were they introduced to the PRO12, the tournament would likely be reformed to a conference system, and the South African sides would also then become eligible for qualification for the European Champions Cup.