Following the disbanding of Border Reivers in 2007, the number of Celtic teams fell to ten. That number remains the same to date, but following the addition of Italian sides, and now South African clubs, the league they play in now has 14 participants.
Sean McMahon’s article discusses in full the format and talking points that have come with the new league. Needless to say, it has caused a lot of debate and discussion.
Some argue the format is unfair, leaving some teams in a more difficult conference, or clubs based in a more competitive country being at a major disadvantage. Other critics suggest the format is too complicated and this will lead to the excitement and passion being taken out of it.
Finally, there are huge question marks over the South African sides. There will be major journeys that fans fear will affect both the domestic and international form of their players.
As an English rugby fan, I would be strongly opposed to any of these types of changes happening in the Premiership. The league has not been around for that long, but the present format works and I can imagine a pretty frustrated response if there were changes made. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have a playoff system.
But when I look at the changes to the Pro14 from the outside looking in, I am really excited. This could be seen as selfish, but these changes have laid the foundations for huge growth in world rugby.
It will encourage the creation of franchises across the Atlantic. I am sure the new format could much better accommodate them. It also pits the European and South African teams together. This will begin to open up the possibility of South Africa making the move to the Six Nations. Whilst this is a long way off at the moment, given the TV money and time zone issues South Africa currently struggle with, the attraction is growing. If a format where South African teams regularly make the trip to Europe works over an entire season, then they’ll be a growing sense it will work in the Six Nations.
I also think that with the Pro14 being an international league already, it is not as bad as, say, tampering with the Premiership. The fact is, derbies have been protected, and South Africa’s time zone is just 1 hour ahead of GMT, the same as Italy.
The conferences will change year-on-year dependent on the standard of teams (to make them roughly equal in competitiveness) and whilst people may be unsure of the new format now, I believe that it has been cleverly done and as the season progresses will be increasingly simple to understand.
So while it is not the most simple format in the world, and makes changes to one that many rugby fans liked, it is the right step. Furthermore, several measures have been put in place to ensure the league retains some of its best-loved features like derbies and the top two sides having home semi-finals.
This is the next step in the journey of the Pro14 being driven by incredibly ambitious people at the top. It’s not often we are able to say that in rugby so it is something I think the league should cherish.
And of course, if it doesn’t work, a dynamic board would hopefully be able to realise that and change it as appropriate. However, I think it will and we are in for another cracking season in this ever-changing league.
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena