Why SA market is 'more attractive' for Euro expansion
PRO14 IN THE SPOTLIGHT: At a time when Australian pundits suggest South Africa is no longer attractive, European officials produced compelling evidence of just how attractive a move north is for teams from the Republic.
In just more than a fortnight the Cheetahs and Southern Kings will make history by becoming the first teams to compete in Trans-hemisphere competitions - joining the expanded Pro14.
And despite Australian rugby imploding and becoming ever-more embroiled in costly court cases, there remain some 'pundits' who feel a Trans-Tasman competition is the best solution to their problems.
The departure of the Cheetahs and Kings from Super Rugby to the Pro14 could pave the way for more SA teams (perhaps even all of them) to head north.
Martin Anayi, Chief Executive Officer of Pro14 Rugby, revealed the current two-conference model was designed to leave room for future expansion.
And he also revealed what exactly it is that makes South African teams a more attractive option than alternative markets - like North America, one of the options before they invited the Cheetahs and Kings.
"We looked at lots of different things when going through the process of looking to expand the tournament," Anayi said, when asked by rugby365 what the overriding reasons was for their decision to invite SA teams.
"When we looked at the way teams play in South Africa," he said, adding: "[We saw] they play the same sort of attractive style of rugby we play in the Pro12.
"The timezone works pretty well also - it is just an overnight flight and that area was taken care of."
He also pointed to the long-standing argument that South African's larger stadium attendance numbers and TV viewer figures are a massive asset to any competition - especially in Super Rugby, where numbers are plummeting in New Zealand and Australia.
"Commercially it makes sense with such a passionate fan base here in South Africa," Anayi said.
"It is not to say that door is closed in North America, it is just that this is a compelling opportunity for us at this stage."
While SA teams will not currently compete in other European competitions - the European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup - the door to such competitions has not been shut.
"In the future it [SA teams in other Euro competitions] makes a lot of sense.
"However, how well the teams do in our league will go a long way to furthering an argument for Europe."
He admitted there is room for future growth and additional SA teams.
"A big part of the last two years was to create a format and structure that allows us to grow further. It is clear our future is in expansion, not contraction."
He admitted there will also be the question of how competitions like Super Rugby and the Pro14 stack up against each other.
"That answer we will get very shortly,"he said, adding: "We do pride ourselves on our competition.
"We [the Pro12] have the best statistics for ball in play."
He said attacking stats suggest the Pro12 was the best brand.
"We play a great brand of rugby, we come with arguably two of the biggest teams in the world in [Irish provinces] Munster and Leinster.
"In terms of support and fan base they are the two biggest in the world. Then there is Scarlets, who won our league playing a super brand of rugby.
"We want to be that point of difference, we want to be an attractive proposition and we want to bring in a new fan bases.
"We see ourselves slightly to be different to those other leagues in Europe.
"Now, with moving to the conference model, with more teams playing more knock-out rugby, that is what we are about."
By Jan de Koning