Jurie Roux. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Jurie Roux. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux is in Dublin this week to finalise the deal that will allow the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to participate in an expanded Pro 12 tournament from September.

Meanwhile, a well-placed source told Business Day two other South African Super Rugby franchises had expressed interest in playing in the Pro 12. They will be monitoring how the competition unfolds to decide whether they request a move north when the current Super Rugby deal ends in 2020.

The Celtic League, which owns and administers the Pro12, has signed off on the deal and provisional fixture lists and logistics have been done. A formal announcement is expected later this week.

The tournament features top teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in a tournament that runs to May.

However, it has always been seen as a poor cousin to England’s Premier Rugby League and France’s Top 14, a situation that is underlined by its relative lack of money.

The Pro 12 earned €14m in broadcast revenue last season, while France’s Top 14 generated €96m. There is a huge discrepancy in funding and the Celtic League has recognised it needs new markets to compete in the lucrative European market.

South African expansion is a logical step for the Pro 12, but it is not stopping at only the Cheetahs and Kings. There are draft plans to include a team from North America too.

Roux’s presence in Dublin is about signing off on what has been agreed, rather than negotiation. Financial details have been worked out and the final touches to the fixtures finalised that will let the tournament be split into two pools of seven.

One of the issues is whether the South African teams could qualify for the European Cup and the European Challenge Cup through their final positions in the Pro 12. Currently, the top seven teams in Pro 12 enter those tournaments, which run concurrently to the various domestic leagues.

Allowing the South African teams to enter the tournament is not a unilateral decision the Celtic League board can take. It requires agreement from France and England, as the current wording allows only for "clubs whose national teams compete in the Six Nations," to play in Europe. That is an obstacle for the Cheetahs and Kings.

Irish Rugby Football Union CE Philip Browne said the Pro 12 had to be aggressive and bold in terms of expansion to survive in the long term.

The "potential issues with going to North America" and SA emerging as a realistic option had to be weighed against "the risk of doing nothing", the greater risk, Brown told the Irish Independent.


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