Cheetahs CEO: This is a whole new ball game
REACTION: Cheetahs Chief Executive Officer Harold Verster believes that his team and the Southern Kings will be viewed as "trail blazers" as they make their preparations to compete in the Pro14.
Celtic Rugby and the South African Rugby Union confirmed the two sides' participation in an expanded Pro14 tournament starting this year. The fixtures will be confirmed next week.
"There will be a steep learning curve for our coaches and players but we're in it to win it," said Verster.
"This is a whole new ball game for rugby in South Africa and we're proud to be trail blazers. There is a lot of excitement around the Union about the opportunity and we're already looking forward to kick off.
"We're excited about taking the Cheetahs' famous brand of all-out attacking rugby to Europe and bringing top European clubs to South Africa.
"The Free State is one of the great nurseries of rugby in South Africa and this is an exciting prospect for our young players – to test themselves against top players from the Northern Hemisphere."
President of the Eastern Province Rugby Union Andre Rademan said the Southern Kings' inclusion in the new tournament has given new life to rugby in the Eastern Cape.
"We have been through tough times on and off the field over recent years but we now have the chance to reclaim our status as one of the powerhouses of South African rugby," said Rademan.
"The Southern Kings have been on an upward playing curve this season and there is much to be excited about. This team represents the heartlands of black rugby in South Africa – a tradition stretching back to the very establishment of the game in this country – and we will bring a unique passion and flavour to the tournament."
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said the decision to accept an invitation to play in the Northern Hemisphere competition was a ground-breaking move that added a whole new dimension to the South African season.
"This development is as exciting as the launch of Super Rugby itself back in 1996," said Roux. "It marks the start of a new adventure for rugby in South Africa with a number of exciting opportunities. It will not be without its challenges in aligning with a competition in a different part of the calendar and in very different playing conditions, but it is also a fantastic opportunity for South African rugby to widen our rugby horizons.
"This time next year South African provincial teams will be competing in 11 countries on five continents. We believe the Toyota Cheetahs' and Kings' participation will be good for the competition and good for the teams."
Bill Beaumont, World Rugby Chairman, added: "Following consideration of Pro14's submission, including strategic goals and evaluation of the global rugby benefits, the World Rugby EXCO was unanimous in approving expansion.
"This approval was granted under the proviso that key strategic conditions will be met. This includes the implementation of a detailed player welfare plan, which we are delighted Pro14 are fully committed to. We look forward to the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the competition's history."
In order to provide travelling teams to South Africa with the best possible preparation, games will be fixed for Saturdays. This will allow visiting teams to have a seven-day turnaround leading into these fixtures including five 'clean days' that do not involve any travel.
Flights between Europe and South Africa are overnight which will allow players to rest during the journey while training facilities and accommodation venues are up to the standards expected in Super Rugby.
For teams who are scheduled to play twice in South Africa, the aim will be for them to play back-to-back games on a 'mini-tour' in one round trip. Where the fixture list prevents this, games in South Africa for those clubs will be spread across a reasonable period of time.
"Our clubs, players and coaches are already excited about the opportunity to play in South Africa in front of new crowds, new stadiums and take on these exciting new tests," said CEO of the Pro14 Martin Anayi.
"From a logistical point of view, we know that travelling long distance will be nothing unusual to the South African sides, and indeed our core international players, but it is a new departure for our clubs. As such we have been in a dialogue with performance directors across all participating unions to ensure that player welfare is not compromised.
"We will work closely with travel partners to ensure that players are provided the best possible times and conditions when flying to and from South Africa to make sure their preparation is unaffected.
"In addition, we will welcome members of SA Rugby's Premier Panel of full-time referees who will join our stable of elite officials. The 2017/18 season will bring the Pro14 to new destinations, create more competition and present more vibrancy than ever before on a journey we believe is only just beginning."