Who should go to Pro14?

Joshua Brown

A gentle whisper was heard shortly after the Cheetahs and Kings joined the Pro14 in 2017 — one of South Africa’s biggest rugby franchises was considering a move north.

It has since grown into a resounding ululation that each of the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks have expressed a keen desire to ditch Super Rugby in favour of the soon-to-be-expanded Pro14.

And it makes sense too.

It’s estimated that the inclusion of the Cheetahs and Kings — due largely to the TV deal with SuperSport — brings in £6-million (more than R115-million) per season, and there’s always the prospect of sponsorship deals also being paid in the significantly more valuable English currency.

The Cheetahs and Kings also no longer have to traverse 18 time zones to play one game in South America, another in Asia and a handful in Oceania, all the while battling to overcome jetlag before kick-off.

And then there’s the opportunity to actually win silverware, something no South African team has done in Super Rugby since 2010. While the Pro14 boasts formidable names such as Leinster, Munster and Scarlets, none of those teams hail from places named Christchurch, Hamilton, Dunedin or Wellington.

The Cheetahs were able to qualify for the playoffs in their first season despite only achieving the same feat just once in 11 seasons of Super Rugby.

Finally, there’s the reality that the name ‘Super Rugby’ belies the product it is selling. Once the premier rugby tournament (outside of Test rugby) on the planet, the heady days of the Super 12 are a distant memory. The news that the competition will revert back to a 14-team, round-robin format for the first time since 2010 is encouraging, but whether it can rediscover what made it truly ‘super’ remains to be seen.

At least one of the current SA franchises will be making the switch after the conclusion of the 2020 season. And if that’s the case, the question changes from ‘why?’ to ‘who?’

The Bulls, to my mind, shouldn’t be going anywhere. As South Africa’s most successful Super Rugby franchise and the second-most successful team in the tournament’s history (their three-time champions tag is only outdone by the Crusader’s whopping nine), the Pretoria-based outfit should stay put.

And if the Bulls are staying, then so too should their arch-rivals, the Stormers. The North-South derby is at the heart of what makes South African rugby so intensely fierce. It’s a tradition that stretches back to the birth of the sport in this country and the integrity of the famous battle should remain intact.

This leaves us with the Lions and Sharks: two teams that, collectively, have featured in seven Super Rugby finals but have never managed to clinch the trophy.

If SA Rugby is to send a third team into the Pro14, it needs to be the team that can do the best job of representing the country up north by coming home with a trophy to show for their efforts. The Lions’ fast-paced, run-from-everywhere style of play is better suited to the hard, dry surfaces of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Durban-based Sharks, on the other hand, with their traditional reliance on a powerful, dominant pack and an emphasis on set-pieces and strong ball-carriers are far more suited to the wet, heavy pitches of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

It’s also believed that the Sharks have the biggest global fan base of all the South African franchises, with a particularly large number of supporters now living in the UK. Which is to say, based on some of their most recent Super Rugby outings, the Sharks may even find more black-and-white jerseys in Irish stadiums than they currently do at their beloved Kings Park.

It wouldn’t be an easy move. Sharks fans will have to accept that, despite coming close on four occasions, they will never see the Super Rugby trophy in Durban. But the team that is the best fit for the Pro14 must go, and a trophy is still a trophy, regardless of the hemisphere it’s won in.

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Follow Joshua on Twitter: @BalcombBrown

- Joshua Brown

Let's chat

  • boyo

    As a sharks fan I would love us to move north. It would be fantastic to see us play some different sides and potentially make more money.

  • Stinkmeaner

    Correction the Bulls are joint second for the most titles after the Crusaders. The Blues also have three titles.

  • SweetAz

    Personally, I would prefer the Lions to move,-if for no other reason than getting rid of their obnoxious fanbase.

    • albert Hoffmann

      shame dumbaz, still jealous, go cry a river.

    • John Comyn

      Oh oh wait for it! Big hit coming your way SweetAz. You are going to feel like Jantjies inside centre with all the hospital passes that come his way.

      • SweetAz

        Nahh, not worried, kittens don’t know what a Big Hit is. Wonder when wonderboy Whitely will be back? LOL, he must be almost ready for his next injury by now.

  • humblepie

    The claim that the Lions have never won a Super Rugby title is false. They won the very first Super 10 (in ’94 or ’95). That was an historical achievement.
    Unfortunately, apart from confirming a rumor that there is more interest in joining Pro 14, there is not much value in the speculation of this article regarding which teams should move to Pro 14.

    • Dean Bright

      i thought it was Transvaal, being the Lions basically.

      • Jay

        That is correct. It was Transvaal in ’93 where they beat Auckland if I recall.

    • Barry

      It was the Cats HP, a combo of the Lions and Cheetahs, so not strictly speaking Lions, but we’ll give it to you. Lol

      • Jay

        I think the Cats only came into play in ’98 or ’99 …our supposed SA “dream team”

      • albert Hoffmann

        it was not the cats at all. It was transvaal who won a super cup.

      • humblepie

        The Cats era was introduced later if I recall correctly.

  • Wesley

    Although i would agree the best would be if all teams move north, even eventually, the allies we have in World Rugby would be killed almost immediately. We do not have any allies on the board in the northern hemisphere. Yes we bankroll most of Oceania’s rugby with our TV deals, but even if we are sucking hind tit when it comes to outcomes, we have some axe to hang over their balls when push comes to shove.

    There was a window of discontent between FRA & ENG vs the European champs board a while back, that seems to have settled and only flares up in minor dust-ups in the press recently. Perhaps we should time our move to coincide with discontent and re-evaluations of deals in the north? Create some allies in the dark for preparation of the eventual push?

  • Ulrich

    One team will move north after 2020?

    Super 14 has already been confirmed for 2021 so it is highly unlikely any SA team will move north soon. Not any of the current SR unions anyway.

    What SA rugby should be doing is sending club teams to Kenya, Namibia and so on. Africa is the fastest growing rugby market in the world and Kenya are already decent in 7s. With NZ and Australia potentially partnering among themselves and Asia in the future we need to make sure we’ve got something in the event Europe does not want us.

    The Americas have got their own tournament which will probably also only grow bigger in time.

    If we are to spread the game then best we do it with our continental neighbours.

    • Barry

      An Africa second tier competition would be a great idea, something along the lines of SA “A” team, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

      It would grow the game in the region and give the players more regular exposure at international level. Could only be good for the region!

    • boyo

      SA Rugby almost build Argentine rugby from the ground up so no reason why we cant do the same in Africa as you say.

  • Greg Shark

    The truth be told if you’re old enough to know Natal rugby and the Sharks is that the following is BS in respect of traditional…”…Sharks, on the other hand, with their traditional reliance on a powerful, dominant pack and an emphasis on set-pieces and strong ball-carriers….”….

    The Sharks of old known as Natal had a fast pace game with great handling skills and loose forwards that were faster than the wings of most other unions….. THAT is traditional….. since the 90’s it has been a little different!

    • humblepie

      Good point Greg. I still remember their first Curry Cup final win against Northern Tvl / Naas Botha when they were a small, insignificant union. That win shocked the establishment and put Natal on the map. Since then they have been a serious contender. They inspired all non-Natal rugby supporters and both my children adopted them as their team. I suspect it was mostly due to the exciting wingers (Cabous, Small etc) that they produced at the time that resonated with the youngsters.
      Unfortunately the Sharks of today is a completely different animal.

    • Mike

      They were hardly competitive when they played a fast-paced game. They were a second tier union until they discovered that their flanks do not have to be able to outrun other teams’ wings. They have other work. Western Province played similar rugby until the 80’s. They did not win anything in the 70’s either.

    • Samoan2678

      Couldn’t agree with you more. Even when the dick Muir and Plumtree were coaches, that tradition of fast pace running rugby was alive and well. It’s only when Jake white took over we started this over reliance on powerful, dominant pack. Gary Gold and now Robert de Preez that stupid morbid game plan.

  • Nick

    Ulrich is right. The thrust of the article is either misinformed or a false flag. Griquas Or pumas will go north.

  • albert Hoffmann

    haha the stormers should stay cause their rivals have won 3 cups?? what a load of garbage! Who write this non sense.

  • albert Hoffmann

    “It has since grown into a resounding ululation that each of the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks have expressed a keen desire to ditch Super Rugby in favour of the soon-to-be-expanded Pro14.” Bye then, your boring style suits the sub standard european leagues as well.

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