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'It will be phenomenal' - Pro16 expansion even more timely before RWC2023

The four new South African franchises are set to join next year.

Leinster defended their Pro14 title last season.
Leinster defended their Pro14 title last season.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IT’S NOT AS if Irish and Scottish rugby players aren’t up to speed on their South African counterparts. The Springboks are World Cup winners, after all.

But the impending introduction of four new South African franchises to an expanded Pro16 competition from next year promises to deepen the familiarity and add to the rivalry at Test level.

The IRFU have strongly supported the move, which will see the Stormers, Lions, Sharks, and Bulls link in with the Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and Italians from 2021 onwards after their departure from Super Rugby.

With today’s pool draw for the 2023 World Cup confirming that South Africa, Ireland, and Scotland will face off against each other in Pool B at that tournament, the Pro16 expansion couldn’t be coming at a better time.

For all three head coaches, the prospect of their nations’ players facing stiffer competition at club level is only a good thing.

“We want to play against the best as much as we can,” said Ireland boss Andy Farrell today.

“We want our players to be able to do that. For the big teams, the big provinces in South Africa to join the Pro16 is the way that we would like to see it going.”

Scottish sides Glasgow and Edinburgh haven’t been in good form of late and have just one Pro14 title between them – Glasgow won it in 2015 – but Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is similarly enthused by the South Africans coming on board.

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“Any competition that gets our players playing closer to international rugby will help their development for us having success at Test level,” said Townsend.

“We have that in the current set-up with the Pro14 but if there were four South African teams used to playing Super Rugby coming into our competition, that would enhance Pro14/Pro16 and would also give our players experience of a different type of rugby in different conditions that South Africa bring.”

The Springboks coaching set-up have great experience of the Pro14, with director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, head coach Jacques Nienaber, and assistant Felix Jones having previously worked together with Munster.

From their point of view, the shift north is positive for the South African franchises.

“It would be very good for us,” said Nienaber. “I was unbelievably surprised when we started coaching in the Pro12 [in 2016]. It’s one of the fiercest competitions in all facets – the set-piece, breakdown, skill level.

“It would be a big step for our franchises, Super Rugby is a little bit different. It would be a big step up with the tactics, the weather, the different playing surfaces, and different referees from different countries that you have to manage.

“I think it’s probably, and I’m not talking down any other competitions, but I think it’s very close to Test match rugby. I’m super excited for our players to join a Pro16 or Pro14. It will be phenomenal.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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