PRO14 will morph into a 16-team league sooner rather than later if the league’s ambitious chief executive Martin Anayi has his way. If one believes talk in the corridors of rugby power, economic powerhouses America and Germany will be the latest countries to join the PRO14 party.
Whether by design or chance, the biggest interest shown by overseas investors in getting a slice of the Southern Kings pie have had their roots in America and Germany.
First in line was American Douglas Schoninger, and then German-based Hans-Peter Wild who visited Port Elizabeth for talks with EP president Andre Rademan.
Nothing came of Schoninger’s trip to South Africa – and there has been no firm update on the situation regarding Wild’s visit to Port Elizabeth. Rugby chiefs are specially keen to grow the game in America, and the Boks head to Washington to play Wales in a one-off test on June 2.
The sides will meet at the 46 000-seater RFK Stadium, which was previously home to the Washington Redskins and, until last year, Major League Soccer team DC United.
The introduction of the Southern Kings and Cheetahs last year brought a new perspective to PRO14 where expansion has become the name of the game. Anayi wants his league to match their English and French counterparts in terms of TV revenue.
Anayi is open to the involvement of a team based in the potentially lucrative US and German markets and this could be the big financial game-breaker for PRO14. Spain and Canada are other countries whose names have been mentioned in expansion speculation.
Rugby strategist Tony McKeever says expansion is the only way to go for PRO14.
“This is a race for proper internationalism and the most powerful and economies and multinationals are based in Germany and the USA,” McKeever said.
“PRO14 can catapult the English Premiership with the inclusion of the USA and Germany. There would be great support for rugby in the cities of New York and Boston where they are many Irish expats.”
The fundamental difference with the rival PRO14, French and English leagues lies in the ownership of the teams involved. The PRO14 is run by unions, not clubs, who see the league as a pathway to international rugby,
By splitting PRO14 into two conferences of seven, the organisers have kept the door open to further expansion.
“The inclusion of the Kings and Cheetahs is not the end of our expansion, just the beginning,” 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 has gone from 18 sides 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. The first question of any newcomers is STORMERS coach Robbie Fleck has demanded that officials for today’s Super Rugby encounter against the Crusaders be especially stringent on the offside line.
The Crusaders are a team who live on the edge when it comes to staying onside‚ a tactic that cost the Stormers dearly in their clash in Christchurch last year, resulting in a 57-24 defeat.
On that day, the Crusaders were often visibly off-sides at rucks and were allowed to play on‚ resulting in the Stormers’ being barely able to pass beyond flyhalf before they were smothered.
Superior line speed is one of the game’s main aims and teams often straddle the line between legal and illegal.
But New Zealand teams‚ in general‚ play to the edge of the law and Fleck wants Australian referee Nic Berry and his assistants to be extremely vigilant when the sides clash again this weekend.
“I will absolutely be talking to the officials about it (offside) because after that game last year I was unhappy with the performance of the officials‚” will they come with a competitive team? That is vitally important. “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 Fleck said. “We felt they were offsides for a vast majority of the game‚ and they were able to put us under a lot of pressure because of it.
“We played well for the first 30-odd minutes of that game but were getting nothing‚ and within a few minutes they scored a few tries from turnovers that were directly from the [illegal] pressure they had us under.
“It’s important that all three officials are on board when it comes to the offside line. It’s important that those lines are kept in check so that we can get a decent game of rugby going.
“Look‚ the Crusaders have great line speed as it is‚ and one of the better-organised defences anyway‚ which they showed on their way to the title last year.”
Fleck though‚ was also full of praise for the tournament’s most successful team.
“They are not a team that makes many mistakes‚” he said. “There is nothing fancy about them‚ they just do the basics very well through good‚ hard work. They have a great culture‚ the best defence in the competition‚ an extremely strong kicking game and a solid set piece.”
As a tournament, we can play a central part in the plan to expand the game in the right way.
“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 find 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.”
From a Kings perspective, it is worth recalling a meeting between Stade Francais owner Wild and Rademan last month.
With Germany being mentioned as a strong candidate in any enlarged league, Wild’s connections to that country are significant. In October 2007, Wild was instrumental in the formation of the Wild Rugby Academy, an institution aimed at developing the sport of rugby union in Germany.
A German, American. Spanish or Canadian team would add more international flavour to an already cosmopolitan PRO14 set-up. For the moment, Anayi must be worried that the Kings have not been able to bring a competitive edge to the tournament. The PE side, however, are still guaranteed two more years in PRO14 and there are high hopes they will start delivering next season.