So, the worst kept secret in European rugby has finally been confirmed, and the PRO14 has been announced in a fairly muted fashion. It’s sort of like having something unpleasant pushed through your door and finding the culprit running away when you go to look! But Celtic Rugby and publicity have never really mixed and I guess that’s why we are where we are today.
Unfortunately though, still no actual fixtures. It’s still going to take the broadcasters at least a week to pick over the fresh corpse for their choice morsels and then we’ll probably only get be the first couple of months worth. Time and effort should maybe have been invested in sorting that mess out rather than bring more teams into an already broken system.
It’s interesting that “supporters” are only mentioned once in the 1,909 words in the official statement and that’s to assure everyone that they be keeping the lucrative national derbies. As if they would ever drop them! We now have 21 fixtures that have been cobbled together in a mish-mash of “in conference”, “out of conference”, “local derby” and “other” matches. It is no longer a level playing field.
We are continually told that the PRO12 needs to adapt to survive and there are positives to be gained from the introduction of the two south African sides. There certainly will be fresh excitement in welcoming the two new teams to Ravenhill and I certainly wouldn’t mind a trip to Port Elizabeth myself. Let’s hope those mtches don’t occur in November or during the Six Nations as watching a full strength South African side hump our second string may not be so exciting!
This conference system does allow further teams to be introduced without wholesale changes and the extra £6 million will help pay for a marquee player in the squad! Whether or not it will help keep money in the Ulster system is debatable.
It’s entirely plausible, particularly in Ulster’s case, that the entire £500K could be placed in the hands of a South African import, adding to the estimated £600K we are already pushing their way. Perhaps if the extra £500K had been ring-fenced for the academy this all might have sat a little better?
Here’s what you need to know about the PRO14
The Guinness PRO14 will adopt a two-conference model which will allows for the new clubs to be added into the Championship without need to add extra rounds in 2017/18.
|Conference A||Conference B|
- Each conference will contain 7 teams with an equal split of teams from each union
- Every team plays 21 regular season games
- Every team to play each other at least once
- All Home & Away Derby fixtures will remain in place
- Italian, Scottish and South African teams will play an additional Derby fixture to even out the schedule (e.g. Edinburgh will play Glasgow Warriors three times)
- The Guinness PRO14 Final Series will now include Quarter-Finals allowing six clubs to reach the knock-out stages (teams 1-3 from each Conference)
- The top 3 clubs from each conference will qualify for the Champions Cup while the team with the highest points total outside of those six teams across both conferences will claim the final Champions Cup place
South African clubs will not be eligible to qualify for EPCR tournaments at present
The Conferences need to fulfil two criteria. First, there must be an equal number of teams from each union in both conferences. Secondly, there must be a competitive balance based upon the previous season’s final placings that feed into union rankings.
To create an equal number of teams per union each conference will contain:
- 2 Irish teams; 2 Welsh; 1 Italian; 1 Scottish, 1 South African
Additionally, for the entrance of the South African teams their Super Rugby final placings were used for ranking.
Please note: To maintain competitive balance the Conferences will be reset each season based upon rankings from the previous campaign.
The regular season will consist of 21 Rounds, which is one game less than the previous format. These Rounds will be made up from a combination of:
- 12 Home & Away games in your team’s conference
- 7 Home OR Away games against each team from the other conference
- An additional 2 Rounds to ensure all derby fixtures are played home & away (this means Scottish, Italian, South African clubs play three derbies)
The fixture list has been drafted for all 21 rounds, Rounds 1-13 will be confirmed next week (commencing August 7) after the Championship’s broadcast partners have made their selections for live television broadcasts and the clubs have been consulted.
PRO14 Will it work?
The short answer is yes it will work, because it has to. There hasn’t been much time to sort it out and they have probably made the best of a bad job. It’ll certainly be fun for a season or two until the novelty wears off, bt it’s likely there will be even more changes over that period!
I myself would have preferred a 26 game league with no play offs with the extra games played during the November and Six Nations breaks but that itself has player welfare issues and introduces more games with weakened squads, so it is swings and roundabouts really, based on your own personal preference.
My hope is that this set up eventually expands into a two league system of eleven or twelve teams each and promotion and relegation, allowing the smaller European rugby nations a feasible pathway to the top. Bt that stage, Ulster will of course be World Leaders! 😯