The Guinness Pro12 has been working behind the scenes to include US and Canadian franchises in a new incarnation of the league.
As reported in The Scotsman, the new league format would be called the ‘Guinness Atlantic Rugby Championship’ and is planned to begin in the 2018-19 season.
Such a prospect is clearly very exciting for all those involved and it’s remarkable that the powers that be have managed to keep the idea so quiet for so long.
During the opening weekend of Six Nations action, when the eyes of the rugby world were fixed on the rugby feast playing out across Europe, the Pro12 boss was a long way from home. Martin Anayi was in fact in Texas, scouting possible locations and networking with people interested in making the franchise happen. It is thought that Texas is the preferred location for such a team given the warm temperatures there, although there is interest in setting up a franchise in New York as well.
Canada is also a major part of the plan, and a consensus over where the team would be based has been arrived at much sooner. Toronto appears to be the clear choice for all parties concerned, although the climate in this area is an issue. Sub-zero temperatures are a regular occurrence in Canada’s largest city but it is hoped that adding a roof to the BMO Stadium, currently used as a football ground, would allay such fears.
The addition of both sides would of course push the league to a 14-team competition. It is then proposed that these 14 sides will be broken into two divisions.
Rugby is said to be the fastest growing sport in America, boasting 450,000 players, so it’s difficult to find fault with the intention of the Pro12 trying to expand into this market.
Although one would hope their addition would not mirror the experiences of the Italian sides in recent years, who have become perennial whipping boys despite their best intentions.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena