Expanding the PRO14 into the United States has been put on the long finger and strengthening the relationship with South Africa rugby is the primary concern, according PRO14 chief executive Martin Anayi.
Anayi and other PRO14 officials held a series of meetings in South Africa last week, which included meeting representatives of the Cheetahs, Southern Kings, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, the former Munster coach.
Erasmus and SARU president Jurie Roux have been appointed to the board of the PRO14, following meetings in Bloemfontein last week.
The strengthening of the link between the former Celtic League and South Africa means that proposed expansion into the US is not on the agenda, at present.
“That’s a longer-term opportunity for us, now. The South Africa piece has really worked well and we want to reinforce that,” said Anayi.
He was speaking following a meeting with SARU, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings at the Toyota Stadium on Friday morning in Bloemfontein. The officials, along with Erasmus, attended the Cheetahs game against Munster at the venue that evening and Anayi said the link-up with South Africa had worked well.
“We have had those discussions and I know it has gone really well. You have got Cheetahs in the play-off spot. Speaking to Franco Smith, who is coming back from Springboks to be the head coach with the Cheetahs, and he is incredibly excited.
“He coached in the PRO12 with Treviso and he brings a new vigour to it.
“Tactically, we have a few things to solve with the Southern Kings in terms of the strength of their squad, but they will benefit from a full pre-season, they will reset and go again,” said Anayi.
He said that having Erasmus fully behind the link-up is also key, especially given his time in Munster.
“He is saying that the gap between PRO14 and Test rugby is the right gap and, with Super Rugby it is slightly different.
“He sees the quality of the rugby, but also the tactical game has been something the Springboks can benefit from. It was great to hear that,” added Anayi.
The PRO14 chief executive said that the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings are tied into the competition for at least the next two seasons.
“Even longer term than that. There is an option then in the future to look at more.
“It has not been decided [if other teams will join). Those two teams are set, but obviously if other teams are willing to come in, that will be looked at.”
He said that, overall, they are happy with how the first season has gone, not least as the decision to expand happened quite quickly last summer.
The nightmare 55-hour journey which Cardiff Blues endured last week on their way to play the Southern Kings served to highlight some of the logistical problems involved, but Anayi said these can be overcome with planning.
“Those are teething problems. Making sure we can solve those going forward will be important. Expansion downwards was done very quickly, but very solidly.”
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