Pro 14 – The Expansion
So it has been confirmed, we will have a league after all!! The talking has been done and now all that has to be confirmed is the fixture list. The Pro 14 will now be split equally in conference A and conference B , 7 teams in each. Conference A will consist of Ospreys , Cardiff Blues , Munster , Connacht , Glasgow , Zebre and the Toyota Cheetahs.
Conference B will have the defending Pro 12 winners the Scarlets , Dragons , Leinster , Ulster , Edinburgh , Treviso and the Southern Kings. This change has to be given time to bed in. Both South African sides have been released from Super Rugby and were freed up to seek other chances in other areas. So they joined up with the Guinness Pro 14 to create a new league.
The structure will see each team play 21 games in the season, one less than the Pro 12. Each team will play the other 6 teams in there conference on a home and away basis and then the other games will be cross conference matches. The Irish sides will keep their derbies intact so you as the fan will get to see your chosen team in derby action at some stage in the season.
What the South African teams will bring is a big TV audience and new markets and revenue streams to tap into. New fan bases will also be created. The financial rewards are also massive, some of the funds that will come from a new TV deal with Sky Sport South Africa will benefit all 14 teams. It will help in terms of player recruitment.
It was looking extremely tight as time was slipping away but now we can finally move toward the new season after some very uncertain times. The private backers of Zebre have passed the ownership of Zebre to the Italian Federation. Michael Bradley will be there new head coach for the coming season on the recommendation of Conor O Shea.
Looking to the new structure, you will now have quarter finals where the conference winners will progress straight to the semi finals and will have home advantage in those semi finals. European qualification will see 6 sides to get to Europe and the 7th place will go to the best ranked side outside of the two South African teams who for the new season at least will not be competing for places in Europe.
Change is hard is every walk of life but this change will impact for the better in the long term. It will improve the league and help close the financial gap that has appeared in recent years between the Premiership, Top 14 and Guinness Pro 12/14. How competitive will the new sides be only time tell and these two new sides will hopefully spur on the Italian teams to improve because they know there are two new sides to fight against.
The Irish sides will hopefully be able to adapt to the new league and hopefully they can have the same level of success and consistency in the next few years. The new season is about to kick off so , sit back and enjoy…..
Cian Mc Gibney