16 Nov

Ambitious Pro14 looks at Germany, Spain and Canada for further expansion

first_imgThe Pro12 has not quite become the Proteas 14 but the introduction of the South African sides the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings after they lost their Super Rugby status means half the 10 tier-one nations will be involved in the old Celtic league.The Pro14, which kicks off on Friday evening, has been long trying to sidestep out of the commercial shadows cast by the Premiership and the Top 14 in France and its expansion is timely with broadcast and sponsorship deals being renegotiated this season. The fundamental difference with the rival leagues lies in the ownership of the teams involved.The Pro14 is run by unions, not clubs. They see the league as a pathway to international rugby: the call to cut the number of matches on a Lions tour from 10 to eight did not come from Ireland, Wales or Scotland. By splitting the league into two conferences of seven, the organisers have kept the door open to further expansion.The inclusion of a side from the United States has long been mooted and explored while there have been overtures from Germany and Spain, and Canada is seen as a potential option. The Pro14 is not looking for a club armed with a rich benefactor and dozens of foreign recruits but a team backed by its union that would fulfil World Rugby’s brief of expanding the game.“This is not the end of our expansion, just the beginning,” the Pro14’s chief executive, Martin Anayi, said. “We had the option of contracting [which would have meant cutting the two Italian sides who have struggled to make an impact since joining the league in 2010] but that was never a real one because we wanted to grow.“We know there are pitfalls from the example of Super Rugby, which is going from 18 back to 15, but looking at it from various points of view, if it stacks up you go for it. South Africa ticked all the boxes, which is why it happened so quickly. It was the right thing to do and we are excited because it is not for one or two years but six. Share on Pinterest Since you’re here… Read more Support The Guardian The Breakdown Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Topics Sign up to the Breakdown for the latest rugby union newscenter_img Share via Email … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Rugby union features Share on LinkedIn “The first question of any newcomers is will they come with a competitive team? That is vitally important. Then you look at player welfare and then how do you make it work commercially. If a team is not going to be competitive and works against player welfare, it does not matter how much money it brings in. As far as the United States is concerned, the union there needs to be a willing and active participant in any move, along with World Rugby who are looking to increase the number of elite teams and increase the value of the international game.“The game relies on a successful World Cup every four years and more need to be in a position to win it. As a tournament, we can play a central part in the plan to expand the game in the right way and with the right resources. It puts us in a unique position. You could easily go in and produce a USA team with a blitz of imports but that is where the strategy comes in: a team needs roots and benefits for the union in question as well as World Rugby. It needs to be more domestic. You would fine it hard to make it work if the team was full of foreign imports. Germany is very interesting, along with Spain and Canada. Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America. We should not discount any of those markets and we are doing a lot of work in Italy to improve standards.”Anayi does not see the Pro14 as a direct rival to the Premiership or Top 14, except when it comes to player retention and recruitment. “We have a different model,” he said. “It is both public and private. If we increase more money centrally, and there is more to come in the contract cycles next year, and we have an element of control over costs we can remain competitive.“In England and France they are looking seriously at costs: there is not an endless pit of money in rugby. We have a nice blend of funding and are looking to generate more money centrally: the South African expansion for the first stage of that strategy. In England and France they have incredible owners but a central part of our strategy is to push our players to become internationals and play for the Lions; that is as important as the tournament making more money.”While the Cheetahs are an established franchise, the Southern Kings were formed this decade and beset from the start by financial problems, forcing the South African Union to take them over. Zebre came close to folding earlier this year but Anayi believes Italy will start to make an impact in the Pro14.“We are doing a lot of work in Italy to improve standards and performance,” he said. “Much is being done there now by Conor O’Shea [the Italy coach] and his group. I met with Treviso’s owner recently and he wants to make it a rugby powerhouse. We should not write off the teams we have and we want to improve the depth of our tournament and have more teams chasing Champions Cup spots. It is not just about expanding but strengthening what we have.”Pro14 opening weekend fixturesFriday 1 Sept: Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Munster v Benneton, Ulster v Cheetahs (all 7.35pm)Saturday 2 Sept: Ospreys v Zebre (2.30pm), Dragons v Leinster (3.15pm), Scarlets v Southern Kings (5.30pm), Connacht v Glasgow (7.35pm).• This is an extract taken from the Breakdown, the Guardian’s weekly rugby union email. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.• And sign up for the best of the Guardian’s sport coverage with The Recap – all arriving in your inbox at 12pm every Friday. Share on Twitter Pro14 Reuse this contentlast_img

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