The Ireland Rugby Union has thrown its support behind plans to include four South African teams to expand the PRO14 into the PRO16.
It has long been confirmed that the South African franchises will leave Super Rugby and instead compete in an expanded PRO16 competition from next year onwards.
This has come at the expense of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who have been involved in the competition since leaving Super Rugby in 2017.
With the Kings having gone into liquidation and the Cheetahs currently playing in the Currie Cup, there are just 12 teams participating in the current season, which started on the first weekend of October.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Ireland Rugby performance director David Nucifora confirmed that talks to include the South African teams were at an advanced stage, which he is hopeful will conclude in the new year.
‘We think that Irish Rugby needs to be ambitious, we think that the PRO14 needs to be ambitious,’ Nucifora said. ‘Challenging our teams and challenging our players, and I think that’s what high-performing athletes want.
‘Sending teams, be it at full strength or teams that are sending down some of the younger players to play and tour in places like Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, playing full-strength South African sides is something I believe will hold the development of Irish players in good stead for a long period to come.’
Talks to include South African teams began in September after SA Rugby voted in favour of the move following New Zealand Rugby’s plans to launch their own Trans-Tasman competition with Australia.
There are currently questions of the competitiveness of the PRO14 as three of the four Irish teams are unbeaten this season, while defending champions Leinster retained their title after progressing through last season unbeaten.
‘We don’t have the size and playing depth of countries like England and France, so what we we’ve got to continue to do well,’ Nucifora explained. ‘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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