South Africa’s cast-offs set sights on European riches

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    It may not seem like a seismic shift, but is the news that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings are set to join a European competition the first move in South Africa’s eventual exit from Super Rugby?

    The two teams are expected to be cut by South Africa’s governing rugby union body (SARU) from Super Rugby next Friday as the southern hemisphere competition is reduced from 18 to 15 teams.

    Wasting no time in finding another home, it’s been reported by the BBC that the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs and Port Elizabeth-based Kings are poised to join the Pro12 as early as September this year, meaning a 14-team format for the upcoming season.

    The Pro12 currently includes club teams from Ireland (Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Ulster), Wales (Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Ospreys, Newport Dragons), Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors) and Italy (Benetton Treviso, Zebre).

    The South African additions would be the first major change to the competition since the introduction of the Italian sides in 2010.

    It’s been reported this year that the Pro12 was looking at expansion options, with even potential franchises in the United States and Georgia.

    However, the courting of South Africa’s Super Rugby sides seemed like the best love story.

    SARU are believed to be keen to join a northern hemisphere tournament because of similar time zones between South Africa and Europe, which makes match kick-offs compatible for television broadcasters.

    So if the move is confirmed next week and the Cheetahs and Southern Kings make a successful transition, how would it potentially influence South Africa’s four remaining Super Rugby franchises?

    Coenie Oosthuizen (R) of the Cheetahs tackles Brumbie George Smith. AFP PHOTO / Mark GRAHAM


    There can be no denying the European money wins over all others in terms of the world’s domestic rugby competitions, although the English Premiership and French Top 14 are way more lucrative than the Pro12.

    But the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions will no doubt be intrigued to witness how their compatriots fare. Logistics and financials will be imperative, but player welfare will be paramount.

    There’s already been speculation that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings will play some of their home games at Saracens’ home ground in North London to reduce travel, although the current Super Rugby travel schedule has become pretty brutal with the addition of Argentina’s Jaguraes and Japan’s Sunwolves.

    As a guide, the plane trip from Johannesburg to Wellington is almost 19 hours. Johannesburg to Cardiff is 14 hours.

    Super Rugby’s current broadcast deal expires in 2020. If the Cheetahs and Kings are chugging along nicely in the Pro14, what’s not to say the other four South African teams won’t be lured north by the pound or euro?

    Michael Willemse Kings Super Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

    And if all four go, perhaps 2021 might be when the Australian team that’s axed soon – the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force – are reintroduced into Super Rugby.

    World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said only a few days ago that they would love to see a Pacific Islands team in Super Rugby to stop the player drain from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Maybe 2021 is also a feasible entry date for such a side.

    It feels like there’s more upheaval ahead for Super Rugby over the next few years. Following many phases of expansion since SANZAAR’s initial Super 12 in 1996, the upcoming contraction might cause a significant shift further down the track.

    Will South Africa’s rugby eyes look north to Europe more and more? Or has South Africa’s 20-odd-year history in Super Rugby enough to have them bolted on to the southern hemisphere competition?

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (93)

    • Roar Guru

      July 1st 2017 @ 3:32am
      Corne Van Vuuren said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:32am | ! Report

      Why not continue to participate in both?

      • July 1st 2017 @ 3:38am
        Jeff Morris said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:38am | ! Report

        Why though? What’s the benefit when Super Rugby has become such a logistical mess?

      • Roar Guru

        July 1st 2017 @ 5:44am
        The Saint said | July 1st 2017 @ 5:44am | ! Report

        I just hope that the South Africa rugby union still has full control over the players when required to play for the Boks.
        We can’t have the European club games dictating terms for international duties, like we see now.
        The BIL Lions arrived in NZ around 72 hours before the first tour match to prepare because of player commitments.
        European clubs, especially the English and French, plan their competition with limited input from their unions. The clubs dictate the terms of the season..when it should be the unions.
        SARFU should stand firm regarding the Cheetahs and Kings, when players are called for test duty.

        • July 1st 2017 @ 6:56am
          Bakkies said | July 1st 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

          The Pro12 is a union run competition. It’s up to SARU in terms of player release

        • July 1st 2017 @ 4:36pm
          Red Block said | July 1st 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

          With World Rugby announcing the beginnings of a global season from 2021, we should see an end to the ‘tail wagging the dog’.

          • July 1st 2017 @ 8:16pm
            Bakkies said | July 1st 2017 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

            The problem is the 4 Nations unions play test Rugby from August till December what do you expect the competitions to do? No other sport apart from Cricket you see players just play internationals for a huge chunk of the year

            ‘European clubs, especially the English and French, plan their competition with limited input from their unions. The clubs dictate the terms of the season..when it should be the unions.’

            The club bodies run those competitions not the unions. As for the Cheetahs and Kings their Boks are playing for teams affiliated to SARU complete non issue and a mountain made out of a molehill.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 11:33am
        woodart said | July 1st 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        yes, sth africa could be in the best position going forward .

    • July 1st 2017 @ 3:36am
      Jeff Morris said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:36am | ! Report

      Sounds like the beginning of the end of Super Rugby in its current format. Looks like SA is testing the waters for a full time alignment with one of the European leagues.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 3:48am
        AndyS said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:48am | ! Report

        Shame they would choose to do it on Europe’s terms though, rather than on South Africa’s. Adding European teams to a more sensible SA conference would at least give home spectators something to attend, rather than only seeing their teams on TV.

        Can’t honestly see any team cut now being reintroduced again though. Things will have been burnt to the ground by then, and it is not like some stripped down version of the comp will be producing more money. Sharing won’t be on the agenda.

        • July 1st 2017 @ 9:54am
          hog said | July 1st 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          It then begs the question of what benefit is Australia going to get from cutting a team, any short savings that they have forecast has more than been lost in the debacle of the last few months.

          And now it looks like the whole thing is going to get re-invented come 2020, why not just go with 5 teams for the next 2 years, is it worth the damage done by cutting a team, and what options will you have dragging 4 teams over the finish line come the end of this agreement.

      • July 3rd 2017 @ 6:56pm
        Hannes said | July 3rd 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

        They are testing the water to develop an alternative to Superugby. Superugby will struggle to attract the best South African players as the impact of Pro12 will be less on families and players. Good move by South Africa,

    • July 1st 2017 @ 3:42am
      Rt said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:42am | ! Report

      Super rugby must make a future in Asia. How can people fail to see this. The potential market rivals Europe and even the USA.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 9:12am
        scottd said | July 1st 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        sure but that is a 20 year project

        • July 1st 2017 @ 11:29am
          Akari said | July 1st 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          Unless they buy players from ANZ and the Pacific Is or Europe, it might even be a 50 year project.

          Then again, travel might not be a factor in 20-50 years with journeys between Joburgh/Wel for example being cut from 19 hours to 7-10 hours if not better.

          • July 1st 2017 @ 11:55am
            Jacko said | July 1st 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

            Time travel….Make the trip a few seconds…….I remember the movie called “THE FLY” and am just imagining the DNA mix-up between Brodie Rhetalick and Damien McKenzie

            • July 1st 2017 @ 1:39pm
              wyn said | July 1st 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

              Nice one Jacko – had a good chuckle !

      • July 1st 2017 @ 1:02pm
        Mike said | July 1st 2017 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

        Except that Asia doesn’t have the quality players. Not a sport suited for smaller races.

        • July 1st 2017 @ 2:10pm
          Rt said | July 1st 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

          Sure but I think you’re underestimating the size growth in some Asian cultures over the last generation. The advent of a higher protein diet has seen quite a growth rate. Plus Japan has that sumo thing (born front rowers).

          I recall last World Cup after Japan beat South Africa they had 20million + viewers for the next game. That’s a high value market

          • July 1st 2017 @ 8:21pm
            Bakkies said | July 1st 2017 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

            How many sumo wrestlers are in condition to play 60 to 80 minutes of Rugby every week?

            • Roar Rookie

              July 3rd 2017 @ 6:12pm
              piru said | July 3rd 2017 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

              You might be surprised

              • Roar Rookie

                July 3rd 2017 @ 6:13pm
                piru said | July 3rd 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

                That said, Sumo is a pretty specific sport, it’s not like kids are playing sumo in the back yard and learning any kind of useful skills transferable to rugby

                I’d be focussing on the Judo kids personally

      • July 1st 2017 @ 4:53pm
        Gormon Kinchley said | July 1st 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

        by asia, you mean ‘only Japan’? There’s no market in china, korea or any of the south east asian states except for tiny ex pat community.

    • July 1st 2017 @ 5:45am
      englishbob said | July 1st 2017 @ 5:45am | ! Report

      we’ll be glad to have them(in Europe), it can be only be of benefit to the Pro 12 unions and by getting south African teams involved in the Pro12 and subsequently the Challenge and Champions cup this will encourage SA talent to play in SA. Onwards on upwards

      • Roar Guru

        July 1st 2017 @ 6:51am
        Charging Rhino said | July 1st 2017 @ 6:51am | ! Report

        Thanks mate look forward to it!
        Yes hopefully more talent stays in SA now πŸ™‚

    • July 1st 2017 @ 6:43am
      Shop said | July 1st 2017 @ 6:43am | ! Report

      It isn’t the hours in the air that is the problem, it is the amount of time zones you have to cross. Sensible move from the these teams, unfortunately not an option for Melbourne or Perth.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 6:58am
        Bakkies said | July 1st 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

        There is no direct flights from Johannesburg to the venues they will be visiting. It’s the connections in Europe that are a killer. There is talk of some games being played in Allianz Park

      • Roar Guru

        July 1st 2017 @ 9:40am
        Kashmir Pete said | July 1st 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        The time zone impacts viewers as well as players.

        Presumably South African TV rights bring bigger dollars, as they can easily watch almost all games live.

        As much as I am more than curious about how games go in Argentina or South Africa, I almost never watch them.
        Different staying up to watch a test match, which are fewer, and where different time zones cannot be avoided.

        Reluctantly, now agree Australian teams don’t need to play South African provinces – we have annual Test Matches.

        My ideal Super Ten would be 5 x New Zealander, 3 x Australian (combined WA/ACT/VIC), 2 x Islander (one based in Tokyo, the other based in whichever of Fiji, Tonga or Samoa won their prior year regional comp).

        I believe there would be plenty of Oz Rugby fans, me for one, who no longer currently attend Super Rugby in person, who might choose to have a short holiday in the Pacific, based around a Super Rugby fixture.

        The Tokyo based team could include Euro or African players, and be the base for spreading the game in Asia.

        One reason I say only 3 Oz teams, is if you have an Islander team, Oz should not be ‘buying away’ their players.


        • Roar Pro

          July 1st 2017 @ 11:38am
          Crazy Horse said | July 1st 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          Do you understand that Melbourne and Perth are on opposite sides of a very large continent with a two hour time difference (three under Daylight Saving in the South-East States.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 12:57pm
        Cassandra said | July 1st 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        Yes, but what about trying to get Melbourne or Perth into the ITM Cup?

        • July 1st 2017 @ 4:47pm
          Whakaata said | July 1st 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

          That’s never going to happen.
          NZ will always have a separate ITM cup, however if SA go North and I have said this here before I would not be surprised to see a TT comp get off the ground and I believe the conference system was the NZRU’s and ARU’s way to test the waters for this.
          Rugby league is huge and demands huge money and it is largely played in just one country, AFL is completely played in one country.
          A true round robin and possible home an away TT comp could be huge.

    • Roar Guru

      July 1st 2017 @ 6:49am
      Charging Rhino said | July 1st 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      This is great news!! Two teams playing against NH opposition. 4 teams playing against SH opposition. It’s great for SA rugby and their respective fans.

      Regarding Super Rugby- South Africans want to test themselves against Kiwis and Aussies.
      However it appears that the public in Australia wants local to play local. And only after having lived in Australia do I understand this, whereas before it’s just perceived as being anti South African. Ther s a different cultural and sporting mindset between the two countries. Australia is a bit like America, just a bit insular in their sporting outlook which is different to the culture I was raised in. I’m not saying it’s wrong but it’s just different. I guess Aus is so far away from everywhere else that all the other sporting fixtures are usually played when Aussies sleep.

      Therefore, it makes sense to me that if Australia wants to go local only, that’s fine, by all means do what’s best for public interest in Australian rugby and leave Super rugby and go it alone.
      South African and New Zealand teams will definitely still want to play each other though so “Super rugby” could still continue. There is massive interest from South Africans having their teams play against international opposition so they’d never want to leave, and ideally want to play against both Australian team and NZ teams.

      This news to have SA teams play both hemispheres is just fantastic for SA rugby. Well done SARU!!!! πŸ™‚

      • July 1st 2017 @ 10:03am
        Pinetree said | July 1st 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

        It really is the perfect move from SARU Rhino. I was apprehensive on whether the NH would except other teams, but they have, and as you say, SA still play NZ, Aus, AND NH teams which helps retain some of the talent as well. Did they change the water supply to the SARU camp? SB looking great, now this decision. Who would of thunk it.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 11:43am
        woodart said | July 1st 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        agree %100 rhino, Kiwis want to play against sth african teams, best,hardest opposition.

      • July 1st 2017 @ 12:02pm
        Boomeranga said | July 1st 2017 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        “Ther s a different cultural and sporting mindset between the two countries. Australia is a bit like America, just a bit insular in their sporting outlook which is different to the culture I was raised in.”

        Most sports play domestically at club level and only internationally at National level. Football the prime example, with Rugby the exception rather than the rule. Deciding after 20 years that a domestic comp would have been a better bet isn’t insular. It’s just accepting that the model most every other sport has evolved with, and rugby traditionally favoured, was probably the right one because it would have allowed weekly engagement with the fan base across 6 months.

        On a broader view, can you tell me some sports South Africans play that Australia doesn’t?

        • July 1st 2017 @ 12:51pm
          Council said | July 1st 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          It’s not the sports it’s the attitude,i think you missed his point big time.

          • July 1st 2017 @ 1:25pm
            Boomeranga said | July 1st 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

            So explain it O’Wise One. its easy to call us a name. I’d like to understand his theory.

        • Roar Guru

          July 1st 2017 @ 2:19pm
          Charging Rhino said | July 1st 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          Boomeranga, if you take AFL & League away, South Africans play pretty much all the same sports as Aussies. But that’s not the point.
          The point is there is massive interest from the average South African rugby fan to see how their rugby teams go against Australian & New Zealand teams. This doesn’t appear to be reciprocal from an Australian perspective. On average Aussies aren’t really interested in the SA teams and the average person wouldn’t even be able to tell you whereabouts they come from in SA. Whereas most SA rugby fans know if they’re NZ and Aussie teams and where they come from in each country, and a 10 year old will tell you each of the star players from the “foreign” team and is interested in watching them. This is why Super Rugby has now overtaken the Currie Cup in terms of importance and interest level. Currie Cup has been going since 1890, so there’s always been domestic rugby, or local vs local, Super Rugby is the opportunity to play against international teams and not be a double up of Currie Cup.
          Also the time for watching the NZ and Australian games is very favourable for South Africans, you wake up in the morning and the first game starts at 8:30am! So it’s easy to follow.

          From my experience Australians appear to be interested in watching local vs local. Once state/ club/city beating the other Australian state/club/city. Hence the success of State of Origin, AFL etc.
          Yes of course there are big rivalries between Sharks, Stormers & Bulls. But SA’s want to beat Aussies and Kiwis too and watch these games with interest.

          Also because South Africa is in the Europe time zone, many people follow British Premier league football and other European league. There is an entire channel in SuperSport dedicated to only Europe/BPL soccer, all day every day. You’re either a Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona fan etc. Aussies are sleeping when these games are played, so there just seems to be a lot less interest in Australia. And of course there’s also local soccer.

          But South Africans will watch The Ashes with interest and follow it. Or Australia vs India cricket. Or they’ll watch the 6 Nations rugby. Or the Ryder Cuo golf and all the majors. Wimbledon (the times of the game are perfect).
          The same goes for pommies, which is why Super Rugby got a massive cheque from Sky news UK.
          I dunno, to me there just seems to be far more interest in local AFL, NRL & Aussie cricket & rugby teams than international sports competitions. I’d guess a big reason why is because of the time zone.
          As I said I’m not saying it’s wrong at all, but like America it’s just different. Americans have their own sports going on. And with NRL & AFL, so do Australians.

          But st the end of the day, everybody wants to see their own team win.

          • July 1st 2017 @ 2:51pm
            Boomeranga said | July 1st 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

            With respect Charging Rhino, I don’t think anything you just wrote justifies calling us insular. I can watch all those sports / events the same as you. I’m not interested in Golf or the EPL, for example, but they are broadcast and people watch them. On the other hand I am taking a few days off soon so I can sit up and watch the Tour which you mightn’t do.

            On Rugby, I’ve always liked the international competition it allows. I grew up playing Aussie rules and it was while living in the UK that I first really developed an interest in rugby because I went to see the Wallabies at Twickenham, and even though we lost, it was awesome. The issue for us though is rugby here is going down the tube and something needs to give while there is a chance to save it. I think that is why people on here talk with so much focus on our own situation. The situation is quite bad precisely because people don’t much care anymore, even for our teams.

            • Roar Guru

              July 1st 2017 @ 3:03pm
              Charging Rhino said | July 1st 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

              Apologies mate it wasn’t meant to be insulting. Just from my observation Australia can be compared to America in that it has its own local sports going on (AFL & NRL) which the average Australian is interested in.
              That’s all

            • July 1st 2017 @ 5:13pm
              Pinetree said | July 1st 2017 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

              I think perhaps Rhino use of the word “Insular”, was not the best word to use. Australians are not ignorant or uninterested in other cultures. But I don’t think that was what Rhino meant. I too find it strange that Aus like the US, seem more interested in domestic competition over international to a higher degree than other countries in general.

              The time zone argument is a interesting one, but does not fit the picture when you talk about kiwis, who are in a slightly worst time zone, watching matches in the middle of the night, and playing the sports most common for international challenges against other countries.

              Aus and the US could have way better rugby/soccer teams, if they put more concentration into producing athletes in these areas. But even having a rugby team regularly in the top 3 in the world creates less interest than sports like NRL and AFL, which has very limited international appeal in RL, and practically zero international interest for AFL.

              I think it is a phenomenon that many have noticed about AUS and the US, in the domestic battles ranking higher in viewership, opposed to international sport clashes. For most of us, the higher profile the sport is, the greater pride in where you rank internationally is. How can you know you are the best in a purely domestic competition?

              Like Rhino, nothing wrong with it, just an observation in the culture of Australia.

              • July 1st 2017 @ 7:37pm
                Boomeranga said | July 1st 2017 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

                What about our hockey teams, or surfers, or swimmers, netball, Moto GP, cyclist, rowers, sailers, triathletes. We used have awesome squash players. Our cricket team, or tennis players. The Olympics and the Socceroos. Having a team in the rugby top 3 creates interest, but so does having the worlds best surfer. Or Jason Day and Adam Scott and Daniel Riccardo. Cadel Evens was the first guy from outside Europe and America to win the Tour. We opened up the Americas Cup. Our women basketballers are awesome and people follow them. There are half a dozen in the NBA and a few kickers in the NFL. Some people even like Boxing and blood sports. Rugby isn’t our main winter football code is all.

              • July 4th 2017 @ 6:13am
                Hannes said | July 4th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

                Having lived in South Africa, England and Australia, I agree with Rhino. The word insular is probably not ideal, Australians in general are only interested in their local team and the team their parent’s used to support. Then they watch local competitions like the AFL and NRL – a very isolated view of sport.

          • Roar Pro

            July 1st 2017 @ 9:22pm
            Crazy Horse said | July 1st 2017 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

            There’s plenty of interest in South African teams in Perth. Probably because of the large South African community here.

            • July 2nd 2017 @ 7:34pm
              Boomeranga said | July 2nd 2017 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

              There are easily more Saffas in Sydney than Perth.

              • July 4th 2017 @ 6:16am
                Hannes said | July 4th 2017 @ 6:16am | ! Report

                There is about the same number that was born in South Africa in Perth than there is in Sydney and Brisbane (sensus data). As Perth population is 1/3 smaller the proportion is much higher in Perth.

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