Celtic nations give their verdict on South African invasion
REACTION: It seems a matter a when, not if, the Pro14 will welcome in some new additions from South Africa to create a new-look ‘Pro16’ tournament.
Reports that Super Rugby franchises the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will join the league have gathered pace in recent months, with IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora recently admitting talks were at an advanced stage.
It’s a move which will hopefully breathe new life into a league which has, at times, suffered from a lack of a competitive edge.
This week RugbyPass caught up with six former pros from Wales, Ireland and Scotland to get their thoughts on what the addition of those high-profile South African teams would mean for the Pro14.
Tom Shanklin (Saracens, Cardiff Blues, Wales)
“I think it’s going to make it more exciting, I think it makes the competition more diverse. I think we’re getting four of the top quality South African teams, so it’s about the commercial aspect as well, about more money into the game, more money from television rights. So I think it’s going to be good.
“I think it’s going to drive the competition up, I think we’re going to get a really good standard. When you’re playing better teams, even if you lose you learn more, you up your game more. So I think it’s a good move.
“It just opens it up and makes it more exciting. A different style of rugby, a different level of rugby. And hopefully the teams in the Pro14 will up their game to that level as well.”
Shane Williams (Ospreys, Wales)
“I completely agree. It can only be a positive for the Pro14, or whatever it’s going to be (called) because you are talking quality teams that play a different style of rugby to a lot of the teams that play in the Pro14 at the moment.
“It kind of opens that game up a bit. We saw glimpses of the Cheetahs and the Kings and how they played. I actually really enjoyed watching the Cheetahs, and I feel a little bit sorry for them to be honest with you. But it is going to bring a different style of rugby to the Pro14 games. So I’m looking forward to that.
“And also, they’ve got some class players that are going to be coming over and showing their worth in this competition as well. So it can only be positive. Financially it’s going to help matters for the clubs and the regions, which is great, and it’s growing what is already a highly contested competition anyway.
“I love watching Super Rugby, whether it be South African teams, New Zealand or Australian teams. Obviously that’s all changed a little bit of late, but I make an effort to get up early on a Saturday morning to watch these games because I love the style in which these teams play.”
TS: “I’d love to see their faces when they turn up at Rodney Parade on a Friday night when it’s wet and cold!”
SW: “Remember Tonderai Chavhanga? He was a winger for South Africa and the Dragons signed him. He was a 10 seconds 100 metre sprinter, and you can imagine his face when he turned up for his first training session at Rodney Parade, thinking ‘I’ll get about 14 seconds for the 100 metres on this stuff!’… So yeah, you play to the conditions.”
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Stephen Ferris (Ulster, Ireland)
“I think Ulster would have certainly been more well-equipped [for the Champions Cup this year] if they had been playing against a full strength Scarlets and a full strength Glasgow going into that Toulouse game. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
“I think when all the teams are fully loaded [in the Pro14] it certainly evens it up a bit, but if Ulster were playing week-in, week-out in the Premiership, where would they finish at the end of the season? Munster and Leinster, where would they finish at the end of the season? It’s so professional week-in, week-out in the Premiership, they’ve got big squads, so it’s hard to know.
“But at the same time I just think with the Pro14, we haven’t seen the best of it so far at the start of the season because teams have been so depleted [due to the international games]. And hopefully it picks up over the festive period and we do see a bit more quality. We all know that it’s there, we’ve witnessed it over the last few years.
“And I certainly believe that bringing the Lions, the Sharks, the Stormers and the Bulls into this competition will bring it to a different level. Bringing World Cup winners like [Siya] Kolisi, [Duane] Vermeulen, Herschel Jantjies, whoever… The pedigree of player will go up, and I certainly think that moving forward, that’s only a good thing.”
Darren Cave (Ulster, Ireland)
“If we can get these South African teams in, I think it’s huge for the Pro14. I think one of the issues the Pro14 has had is you’re always going to struggle with a product when you have so many fixtures, when you’re playing on international weekends etc.
“I mean, the Premiership, at the end of their last season, they said: We don’t want to dilute our credibility, we’re going to fulfil all our fixtures. And they actually shot themselves in the foot because they had depleted teams playing on Tuesday, [losing by] 50 points, 40 points, and it was a bit of a mess.
“So a personal opinion, I think we might see more teams but how it’s structured, you might actually see less fixtures. Because I think that will improve the product.
“There’s always that group of fans that think, ‘Well if the Pro14 quality is not as good, why do the Pro14 teams do so well in Europe?’
“My honest opinion, having played in it not that long ago, is that there is sort of happy medium. I think back to the times when we would have been at home to a lesser team the week before Europe, and players are getting subbed off 45 minutes in and teams are getting rotated, and you are literally preparing for Europe.
“Whereas the Premiership teams, it just wasn’t the same, because they had maybe lost a couple of games early in the season and they were fighting to get back into the top six, already looking forward, whereas at Ulster we always knew we were going to get in [to the play-offs].
“So there’s a lot going on, and again, to repeat what Stevie said, from when I was a wee boy and used to go to Ravenhill, I just think the thought of getting the likes of Kolisi, Pieter Steph du Toit etc, I just think it would be unbelievable for the league, and I just so hope it happens.”
John Barclay (Glasgow, Scarlets, Edinburgh, Scotland)
“Do I think it’s good? It’s not a simple answer. I never actually made one of those trips because of injury or whatever, but I know the boys really enjoy the opportunity to travel. That’s one of the things about rugby, that you get to play in these different places.
“In terms of the impact, I don’t know how you fit it in. With more teams the logistics are a bit more complicated for me to understand, I’ll leave that to the powers that be. But if they can work out logistics and it’s not putting too much burden on players in terms of an increased number of games, then why not?
“I think South African rugby is definitely a certain brand, and you see a lot of South Africans over here and playing well in the Pro14. You certainly look at the guys I played with at Glasgow or Scarlets, and they never seemed to be that [negatively] affected by the conditions, even though it couldn’t have been further away from what they’re used to.
“It could be really exciting, but I don’t know how it would work. But I do think it could be a lot of fun for players to be involved in.”
Chris Paterson (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Scotland)
“I see it as a positive. I see more competition as a real positive thing in terms of teams, status, and also individuals as well.
“If you think individually for the players, if you are going to get the opportunity to play against some top quality players, a different brand of rugby at times, there will be bits of your own game that you find out you have to work on more when you are faced with different challenges.
“Logistically if it works out, I think it’s a real positive for the league. Potentially some big, big players in big teams who are going to have to learn as well. I mean, these guys are used to playing in a different set-up. If they did come in, they are going to have to adapt to playing new sets of teams as well.
“So I think both sides will see it as a positive.”
By Ciarán Kennedy, RugbyPass