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IRFU strongly in favour of South African teams joining expanded Pro16

The union is keen to see the Pro14 become a more competitive proposition.

Leinster have seven bonus-point wins from seven games so far this season.
Leinster have seven bonus-point wins from seven games so far this season.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE IRFU HAS expressed its strong support for South Africa’s four leading rugby sides joining an expanded Pro16 competition next year.

The Bulls, Stormers, Lions, and Sharks are in line to join what is currently known as the Guinness Pro14 from 2021 onwards, having opted against continuing in Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora said the union would welcome the increased competitiveness these four South African teams would bring as he stressed the need for Irish players to be tested more thoroughly during their development.

“The IRFU would be very supportive of South Africa entering the Pro14 competition and potentially making it a Pro16,” said Nucifora.

“We think that Irish rugby needs to be ambitious, we think that the Pro14 needs to be ambitious, and we think that by having those four strong South African teams entering our competitions, it will help develop the game in the Pro14, it will help develop Irish rugby, it will help develop Irish players by stretching us and by challenging our teams and also our players.

“I think that’s what high-performing athletes want, they want to be challenged.”

Nucifora indicated that the four South African sides could even be welcomed on board as early as the New Year.

“Talks are ongoing and they are at quite an advanced stage. There are obviously some time constraints about making those types of decisions because to organise a significant change in competition structure involves a lot of things to happen.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes at the moment to try and see the possibility of that happening in the New Year.”

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siyamthanda-kolisi Siya Kolisi's Stormers will be a welcome addition. Source: Photosport/Joe Allison/INPHO

So far this season, the four Irish provinces have won 23 of their 25 games in the Guinness Pro14, with Leinster recording bonus-point victories in all seven of their fixtures.

While Nucifora praised that strong form and the opportunities for young Irishmen to impress, he pointed to the need for stronger competition as the IRFU looks to maximise its playing resources and produce better players for the national team.

He said that the Pro14 “has served its purpose to this point in time” but added that the IRFU believe the addition of the South African powerhouses is the best option for the future of Irish rugby.  

“Sending teams, be it at full-strength or with some of the younger players, down to play a tour in places like Cape Town and Pretoria and Johannesburg, playing full-strength South African sides, is something that I believe will hold the development of young players in good stead for a long period to come.

“We’ve got to make sure that we continue to squeeze every drop out of the players we have.

“We don’t have the size and playing depth of countries like England and France, so what we do we’ve got to continue to do well.

“We’ve got to expose our players at every opportunity to the highest levels of the game to make sure they’re ready to come through when required.”

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