It’s certainly been an exciting start to the Guinness PRO14 season. The addition of two new teams and a conference system has already added a new level of intrigue to the competition while the good performances from the likes of the Cheetahs, Zebre and Benetton Rugby has led to a more competitive season, so far at least.
Although the South African sides won’t be allowed to qualify for European competition next season, the likes of Zebre, Bennetton Rugby and other perceived weaker teams have further motivation to perform well with the news that the seventh Champions Cup spot will be decided via a playoff fixture.
Under current competition rules, the top three teams in each conference will automatically qualify for European rugby’s top club competition next season. The seventh and final spot will be contested by the sides who finish fourth in their respective Conferences.
It will be a one-off, winner takes all fixture and home advantage will be rewarded to the team who has the highest number of points. The move is designed to ensure competitive balance between both Conferences in order to award the final Champions Cup qualification place and the fixture itself will take place at the beginning of May.
Because the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings won’t be participating in European competition next season, if either side finishes in the top four of their respective Conferences, their position will be allocated to the team who finished below them.
Martin Anayi, CEO of the PRO14 Rugby, said: “By the time May rolls around our fans are going to be the big winners thanks to the enlarged Guinness PRO14 Final Series which will see six teams battle for the Championship title and another two going at it to qualify for the Champions Cup. That’s double the number of teams who now have something to play for after the regular season ends which is a great result for the clubs, their fans and the tournament.
News of the playoff has been welcomed by the head coaches of the Dragons and Bennetton Rugby, Bernard Jackman and Kieran Crowley.
You can read the full press release from Guinness PRO14 here.