The future of Italian clubs Benetton and Zebre in the Guinness Pro14 has been secured for another five years.
It was announced yesterday that the Italian rugby federation has “agreed in principle” to become a shareholder of Celtic Rugby, the body which runs the cross-border competition which also includes Glasgow and Edinburgh, in the coming year. A statement from the Guinness Pro14 said the deal would secure Italian representation in the competition until 2023 and provide commitments “around increased funding and upgrading of facilities for the clubs”.
Italian clubs were introduced to the Celtic competition of Irish, Welsh and Scottish clubs in 2010, with Treviso, who are now named Benetton, and Aironi the first representatives. Parma-based Zebre replaced Aironi for the 2012-13 season but there has long been speculation about the future in the competition of the Italian teams, who have consistently been around the bottom of the table and involved in past financial wrangles.
The introduction of two South African sides, Cheetahs and Kings, to the new Pro14 last season and talk of further expansion had increased doubt about the Italians’ future but the organisation has backed the teams, who have shown notable improvement this season.
The Pro14 statement said: “Subject to the FIR fulfilling certain conditions, this new deal will represent a significant step forward for both Italian rugby and Pro14 Rugby and lays out a pathway to build upon the recent success of Benetton and Zebre in the Guinness Pro14.”
Meanwhile, Toulon have had their suspended five-point penalty from European competition reduced from three seasons to one following an appeal.
The sanction had been imposed after Mourad Boudjellal, the president of the French club who are in Edinburgh’s Champions Cup Pool 5, suggested in an interview that Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud’s hearing for allegedly using homophobic language, which resulted in a three-week ban, would be heard by European Professional Club Rugby’s “Mormon side”.