The runts of South African rugby
OPINION: It’s probably safe to say that the Pro14 will never be as popular as Super Rugby for South African fans.
Although Super Rugby has become a bit stale with the overkill of derbies and its expansion to other countries, it’s still the premier competition for most of the season in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 2017, the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings drew the short straws when they were kicked out of the tournament – along with Australia’s Western Force – as SANZAAR looked for solutions to try to increase the popularity of the competition.
The light at the end of the tunnel for South Africa’s two dumped franchises was Europe and the Pro12 was expanded to 14 teams in that same year – being rebranded the Pro14.
It’s been a rocky road for those teams since the move and things could get rockier in the future.
The Cheetahs is by far the bigger of the two teams and losing out on Super Rugby was a big blow. The team and the Free State province have done a lot for South African rugby, which includes producing a long line of Springboks.
They did well in their first season of Pro14 when they reached the quarterfinals, but their progress has stagnated since then.
There are a few reasons for that stagnation, one being talent.
The top players in the country want to be involved in Super Rugby, so the Cheetahs will not be attracting any big names soon – to fill the void left by players like Retshegofaditswe Nche, who sought greener pastures in Durban.
Despite strong performances in the Cheetahs jersey, Nche was overlooked for Bok selection and he will feel that he has a better chance of higher honours now that he is with the Sharks.
— Toyota Cheetahs (@CheetahsRugby) March 19, 2020
The Cheetahs are a feeder team to the bigger franchises in the country and that conveyer belt is only set to continue in the future.
Last year SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus assured the Cheetahs and Kings that their players will be selected if they perform well in the Pro14, but that didn’t happen.
The Springbok coaching group’s attention was fixed on the Super Rugby franchises leading up to the World Cup.
For the Kings, the future seems bleak. They have finished at the bottom of their conference for the last two seasons and they were bottom this year before the Pro14 season was suspended indefinitely.
The Port Elizabeth team have only won four matches since 2017 and there seems to be no real development going forward.
After over two decades of Super Rugby, the Pro14 has a long way to go to find a way into most South African rugby fans’ hearts and it doesn’t help when you have two weak teams playing in it as well.
There has been a lot of talk about all the South African franchises making the move north in the future, but that is a long shot now.
Crowds have already dwindled in South Africa and having unfamiliar teams like Connacht and Benneton coming to our shores more frequently will not help the situation.
Just ask the Cheetahs and Kings, who are hearing echoes in their stadiums on matchdays.
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