This decision comes after consultation with clubs across the Guinness PRO14 to determine the best course of action for the Championship and all of the teams who compete in it.
The overriding factor in this decision was the ability to ensure equal home and away fixtures for each team across a two-year window. It also means that each team will have played away to all of the other sides in that same period meaning no fan will miss out on the diverse spread of talent that exists in the Guinness PRO14.
The first Guinness PRO14 season proved a hit with attendances, viewership and digital audiences all growing while the Championship set a new try-scoring record thanks to the fastest rucks in world rugby (81% three seconds or less).
Entering his 15th season as Tournament Director, David Jordan, said: “We are very satisfied with how the tournament, our teams and broadcasters handled the expansion into South Africa in the first Guinness PRO14 season and it is our responsibility to ensure we build upon that.
“Initially, we envisioned the Conference line-ups changing from year to year but having reviewed the previous season it was felt that our clubs would be better served working in a two-year cycle to ensure the balance of fixtures.
“Naturally, our clubs have been energised by the expansion, but as key stakeholders in the Championship it was important to adjust the format to help them harness this enthusiasm in order to be successful on and off the pitch. The Guinness PRO14 was highly competitive last season and we have no doubt that we will see the standards rise yet again across both Conferences in the upcoming season.”
The proposal to retain the Conference line-ups was reviewed by the Championship’s Rugby Sub-Committee which includes representatives from the board of Celtic Rugby and key figures from the clubs, including Leinster Rugby CEO, Mick Dawson, Ospreys Rugby MD, Andrew Millward & Glasgow Warriors MD, Nathan Bombrys.
Mick Dawson, CEO of Leinster Rugby, said: “In this the second year of the new Guinness PRO14 format I think it’s important that we have secured the same Conferences for our teams but with the home and away draw alternating. This allows our supporters, who attended in record numbers last season, to again see the rivalries build on what was a hugely successful first full PRO14 season.
“The process of scheduling Guinness PRO14 matches is unique in its complexity given the different territories involved, with some clubs having shared stadia and indeed the travel issues affecting teams on a week-to-week basis. In that regard, it is great that we have the 2018/19 fixture list live ahead of time. This could not be done without the help and support of all the key stakeholders, in particular eir sport and Premier Sports.”
Andrew Milliard, Managing Director of Ospreys Rugby, said: “Everyone at Ospreys is looking forward to the new Guinness PRO14 season kicking off and it should be really exciting for our fans. The clubs were part of the conversation around keeping the Conferences intact and it’s good to see that a common-sense decision was made.
“All teams get a fair return on their fixtures from last season to balance out the difference in home and away games. Now, top teams such as Edinburgh and Ulster will return to Liberty Stadium this year and we’ll also get to keep building our rivalries with teams in our Conference such as Munster, the Toyota Cheetahs and Glasgow Warriors. With Premier Sports on board it means that whether we’re home or away, our fans will never miss a minute of the action.”
Nathan Bombrys, Managing Director of Glasgow Warriors, said: “We’re really looking forward to the new Guinness PRO14 season, a competition which just gets tougher and tougher every year.
“Retaining the same Conferences from last season means our inter-conference rivalries will continue to develop, whilst also ensuring our supporters get to see Ulster, Dragons and Scarlets at Scotstoun next season.
“The South African teams have added an intriguing new dimension to the Championship, and Benetton Rugby and Zebre won a record number of games last year. We travel down to Cheetahs and Southern Kings on back-to-back weekends early in the campaign, and also visit Treviso and Parma, all trips that will present a real challenge to our players and a fantastic experience for our traveling supporters.
“At home in Glasgow we will aim to repeat the achievement of the past two seasons where we sold out every Guinness PRO14 match at Scotstoun.”