PRO14 organisers have confirmed they are in the early stages of expanding the league with the addition of Super Rugby’s four South African franchises.
Talks with SA Rugby have begun after its standing within SANZAAR appears to have been diminished, with the Springboks not taking part in The Rugby Championship this autumn while the All Blacks and Wallabies will play two Tests prior to the competition.
Last month it became known that the Cheetahs would play no part in the 2020-21 PRO14 season until January, while the Southern Kings were liquidated by SA Rugby following years of financial toil. The first round of the new season kicks off next weekend on October 3.
In a statement released on Wednesday morning, PRO14 Rugby explained: “SA Rugby’s long-standing commitments are to field two teams in the Pro14 and in light of the withdrawal of the Southern Kings, discussions are on-going about fulfilling this agreement from 2021 using a replacement team from its current professional franchises.
“Additionally, both Pro14 Rugby and SA Rugby are in early discussions about potentially expanding the tournament and deepening our partnership to include more South African franchises from 2021.”
For the Sharks, Lions, Stormers and Bulls to also join the competition, it has been reported that the Cheetahs would lose their place meaning the competition would be the ‘PRO16’. Such a step would add further rancour to the situation within South African rugby after the Kings were made insolvent.
SA Rugby have addressed its need to curtail its spending by making £56m worth of cuts, to the detriment of the Kings and the Eastern Province Union.
“The history of the Kings has been one of expectation and anticipation but unfortunately the parallel story of commercial failure couldn’t be wished away any longer,” SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said.
“The debts the organisation has accumulated over the years are considerable and in the current environment, the only certainty was that they would grow.
“The membership of SA Rugby has invested heavily in the Kings project but it is now time for a re-examination of what is the appropriate and sustainable pathway for rugby in the Eastern Province.”