According to reports in the UK Sunday Times, South Africa’s four PRO14 franchises could qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup should they finish high enough on the log of the upcoming Rainbow Cup competition.
This comes after a new 10-year deal was agreed by the national unions of all six countries participating in the Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup competitions.
The new agreement reportedly paves the way for SA inclusion in Europe’s top-flight domestic competitions.
If confirmed, it puts an end to South Africa’s period of doubt after having been ejected from Super Rugby. It could also add to speculation that the Springboks may align themselves more closely to Europe in the future.
The news of SA sides’ potential inclusion next year has been met with anger in Wales, however. Under normal circumstances, the top-four teams from each conference of the PRO14 would qualify for the Champions Cup.
This would mean that Welsh team the Cardiff Blues, who finished fourth in their conference this season, would qualify for Europe. However, should plans go ahead for sides to qualify through the Rainbow Cup instead of the recently concluded PRO14, this position could be under threat.
Cardiff CEO Richard Holland has emphatically stated they are unwilling to accommodate SA’s franchises at the expense of their own.
‘The South African sides did not participate in the PRO14. We are not going to give up a spot to them. We have spoken to the WRU [Welsh Rugby Union] and they are on our side.
‘No one can dictate to the PRO14 that they include South African teams in the the sides they put forward to the Champions Cup. And the PRO14 is owned by the four nations who are the shareholders – Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
‘Having South African sides qualifying via the Rainbow Cup would not be agreeable to Wales and they are a shareholder. You cannot move the goalposts like that.
‘We will not be relinquishing a place to the benefit of the South Africans. We would fight any such moves.’