I would like to begin by thanking Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, and the personnel at the Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings for their commitment in achievement this historic accomplishment. This truly is a ground-breaking agreement.
The strength of the Guinness PRO12 has always been in the diversity of cultures that we have in Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Now, we add South Africa, a country with a tremendous passion and heritage in rugby union as we broaden the horizons of the Championship by pitting north versus south on a regular basis. A prospect that should whet the appetite of rugby people everywhere.
Last season, the Guinness PRO12 hit new heights in Positive Play with World Rugby statistics proving that we had the highest ball in play time, least penalties conceded and the most playable ball out of scrums. On top of this our teams combined to scored a record 711 tries in the regular season, so it’s clear to see that skill and ambition is the hallmark of the Championship.
That is certainly reflected by our list of previous champions – Scarlets, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster and Ospreys – teams who have taken risks to show tremendous imagination in a creative and winning style of play which gives great pleasure to the viewing public.
That is why I am filled with excitement about the prospect of seeing the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings taking on the best that Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have to offer. The Cheetahs are renowned for their running style of play and for the number of Springboks who emerge from the Free State on a regular basis.
The Southern Kings are one of the most adventurous teams from the southern hemisphere and their Eastern Province heritage, which includes notable victories over the British & Irish Lions in the past century.
Bringing together club teams from five Tier One nations represents exciting new territory for the Championship, but it also enhances the international calibre and flavour of the Guinness PRO14.
The anticipation of watching all 14 teams create history this season is matched only by the knowledge that these are just the first steps towards a very prosperous future for the Championship.