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The best-kept secret in world rugby is out, that South Africa’s top four franchises – Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – will play in an expanded PRO14 competition in Europe next year. The much-debated decision also signals a massive shake-out of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere with the iconic Super Rugby tournament involving Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, destined for the annals of history. The move north isn’t all good news for Springbok rugby as the Free State-based Cheetahs – and the now defunct Southern Kings – have been booted from what is likely to an expanded PRO16 competition in Europe. Details about the European safari will be fleshed out later, said SA Rugby, as reported by Irish rugby portal, The 42. – Derek Alberts
Confirmed: SA Rugby votes its big four into expanded Pro16 as Cheetahs get the boot.
The South African Rugby Union has voted to move its four high-profile franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Stormers, and Sharks – from Super Rugby into an expanded Pro16 in 2021, reported Dublin-based rugby portal, The 42.
That move leaves the Cheetahs out in the cold after they had participated in the Guinness Pro14 for the past three seasons.
The Bloemfontein-based club will make way, while the Kings – now in voluntary liquidation – are also leaving the Pro14 as the four high-profile South African franchises get set to join from next year onwards in a huge shift for SA Rugby, according to The 42.
SA Rugby confirmed the vote at a special general meeting, where its 13 voting member unions made their decision.
The 42 also reported that SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux stressed that the decision to shift its big franchises into the Northern Hemisphere came due to New Zealand Rugby’s “unilateral decision” to proceed with a domestic or trans-Tasman competition with Australia next year, rather than Super Rugby as it existed pre-Covid 19.
“Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with Pro Rugby Championship and seeking a Northern Hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” said Roux.
SA Rugby did add that it would continue speaking to SANZAAR – Super Rugby’s collective organising body – about entering a South African team into a modified “Super Series” format. according to The 42.
Pro14 Rugby has been understandably keen to get the big South African sides on board to deliver a reputational boost to the competition, as well as making it instantly more difficult to win after Leinster have claimed the last three titles.
It remains to be seen exactly what format the expanded Pro16 competition will take, while it is also unclear if SA Rugby will push for its sides to be included in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup too, said The 42.
SA Rugby further aligning itself to Europe has long been mooted. The very different time zones involved in playing Super Rugby have been a frustration for supporters back in South Africa, whereas the Pro16 would be played in essentially the same time zone.
While Covid-19 currently means travel between South Africa and the Pro14 nations is not possible, there has been an indication from SA Rugby before that travelling to Europe is preferable to the difficult slog of crossing several time zones to get to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina in Super Rugby in recent years.
The Springboks are still set to play on in the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere, however.
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