South African Teams Ditch Super Rugby To Join Expanded Pro16

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – MARCH 02: Jean-Luc du Plessis of the DHL Stormers looks to tackle Aphelele Fassi of the Cell C Sharks during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers at Jonsson Kings Park on March 02, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

The South African Rugby Union has voted to withdraw its four teams from Super Rugby, signaling a major realignment of the game in the country.

At a SA Rugby Special General Meeting, the body decided in favour of entering the Vodacom Bulls, the Emirates Lions, the Cell C Sharks, and the DHL Stormers into an expanded European PRO14, effectively ending franchise competition against sides from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.

Pro14 is a joint venture between the rugby unions of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy. The highly lucrative European television market as well as more favourable time zones and travel logistics are believed to be the reasons behind the move, with the Cheetahs and Southern Kings having played in the PRO14 since 2017. Both teams will now be replaced with the competition set to be expanded to a Pro16 to accommodate the big four. The Cheetahs have a contract to play in the Pro14 until at least the 2022-23 season, and have engaged legal advice.

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The move follows the decision by the New Zealand Rugby Union to proceed with a domestic or trans-Tasman competition, and in doing so the SARU have rejected the option of remaining in a Pro14 format with the Toyota Cheetahs and a replacement for the Southern Kings, who have gone in to liquidation.

““New Zealand’s decision made it impossible to deliver the 14-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition that had been agreed by the partners and for which five-year broadcasting agreements had been signed. Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with the PRO Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” SA Rugby chief executive Jourie Roux said in a statement.

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“These are extraordinary times,” SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said.

“If this had been an ordinary year, we would not have had this meeting.

“But we needed to take radical steps to avoid financial meltdown because of the COVID-19 crisis.”

The three-time Rugby World Cup champions the Springboks will remain part of the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship for the foreseeable future. Speaking before the vote, Rassie Erasmus who masterminded the last of South Africa’s World Cup wins in Japan last year, was positive about the move.

“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,’ he said.

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“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.”

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