We’re only three weeks away from the beginning of the new, revamped PRO14 season and there is certainly excitement in the air as teams from both hemispheres enter into the unknown.
Whatever your opinion is on the new format of the competition, it’s safe to say that interest will certainly be increased compared to previous seasons with the addition of new players, teams and styles of rugby to proceedings.
From the clubs’ point of view, they will need to plan, to the best of their ability, the long-distance trips to South Africa and the new experience of playing back-to-back games so far away from home.
It will be a new experience for many of the players too, especially those who have not been capped by their countries and as a result, would likely not have played in the southern hemisphere before.
In certain instances, some clubs won’t have long to wait before they travel to Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. Leinster and Zebre are the first clubs to make the expedition down south and they will certainly provide the template or perhaps a guide of what not to do for the rest of the teams in the competition who have to make the same journey.
This certainly seems to be in the thinking of Willie Ruane, former player and current CEO of Connacht Rugby.
“We’re not too bad because we’re not going until March so we will have learnt from others. I think for some of the teams that are going in September and October, without a doubt, that’s going to be a challenge. You’re going into the unknown in at many respects,” Ruane told the media in Galway today.
Ruane admits that certain sides will be able to adapt better, such as Leinster, who have plenty of Ireland internationals who have played in South Africa before. However, the experience of playing back-to-back games so far away from Europe will be a new experience for everyone, in the context of the professional club rugby season.
“Now, Leinster are going down but they will have a lot of seasoned Irish internationals who have travelled to South Africa plenty of times, played at altitude if that’s the case, it will be the case for us.
“So, they’ll have a fair bit of experience as well but in the context of the PRO14, having back-to-back games, that is something that will be new for us all. We will have learned from others that have gone before us.”
And it’s not just the travelling which will be a new experience, Ruane is looking forward to welcoming the Southern Kings to Galway in the second round of the competition in a few weeks time.
“We’re all looking forward to what it’s going to bring to the competition and what it’s going to bring to the Sportsground. The Southern Kings are coming up here in the second week of September and it’s just brilliant. It’s something, I think, the people of Connacht will embrace as well.”
That will certainly be a special occasion and you can fully expect the College Road venue to be packed to the rafters when the Kings come to town.