PRO14 chief declares South African inclusion a success

The Cheetahs and Southern Kings, pictured playing each other in July, joined the PRO14 in 2017. Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images/Getty Images

South Africa could field two more sides in the PRO14 in the coming years after the successful addition of the Free State Cheetahs and Southern Kings in the 2017/18 campaign, according to tournament chief executive Martin Anayi.

Anayi has told WalesOnline that the expansion to include the South Africa duo has been met favourably by fans and broadcasters, and that the easy transition has emboldened the organisation to include two more sides to make what they believe is the optimum number, a PRO16 competition.

Although Anayi did not say specifically they would add two more teams from South Africa, he admits the country is perhaps the most appetising proposition. "We are on record as saying we want to keep on expanding. We go through a check list of main items when it comes to prospective teams and if all the boxes are ticked - the business case, the fan case, the competitive case - we look at it," he said.

"South Africa makes a lot of sense for us from a structural point of view, so we will definitely look at them again.

"We have got to grow the league in a way that is sustainable and workable. I think the best number for our competition is 16.

"Strange as it may sound, that will actually allow us to play less rugby. Going to 16 sides would make that possible. We have worked it out. Having changed our format, we can be a little more flexible." Anayi added that the inclusion of the South African teams had gone smoother than organisers might have anticipated.

"It has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "It's transformed the league both on and off the field and been incredibly successful. We are delighted with how well it has gone.

"We've not really had the kind of issues that one might have expected from expanding a major tournament. That's largely down to the hard work that was put in up front and just the positivity from all parties.

"When people are open and willing and there's reciprocity, things get a lot done a lot quicker and in the right way.

"That is what we got in South Africa, from the Union, the two teams and the broadcasters SuperSport, while our own team put in a huge amount of effort to get it over the line in time."

He added that fans in the competition had been speaking with their feet.

"Our attendances were up [last season], which was great. That is our main barometer of how things are going. We had a record crowd for the final, while attendances overall were up 10-11 percent and the top eight teams in the league were up by 15 percent." The South African public have perhaps been slow to pick up their support, but Anayi feels this is something that will change.

"A few people in South Africa didn't realise the quality of the competition. It hadn't been covered over there. There was a lot of Top 14, Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup shown, but not our league," he said.

"There wasn't an in-depth knowledge of what the PRO14 was like. So the quality was a bit of a shock for some people down there. They now realise this is serious stuff."

The idea of having more South African sides in the competition has been mooted for some time, with reports in May that SA Rugby was keen to expand in this direction.