Pro14 chief Martin Anayi says expansion is not finished yet

The head of what is now the Guinness Pro14 has made it clear that expansion is 'in the DNA' of the tournament and the introduction of two South African teams is far from the end of its global ambitions.
Guinness Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi. Picture: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/GettyGuinness Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi. Picture: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty
Guinness Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi. Picture: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty
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Chief executive Martin Anayi said at yesterday’s launch of the new-look Pro14 championship in Dublin, where representatives of newcomers the Cheetahs and Southern Kings joined the established members from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy, that opportunities to enhance the tournament will continue to be explored.

“We set up the format of the tournament into conferences, which allows us the possibility for expansion down the line,” said Anayi.

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“We’ve got two great South African teams now in the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings, we’ve done a multi-year deal with the South African union and firstly it’s about making a success of this new Guinness Pro14.”

The fact that South Africa is only one-two hours different from British time has been widely cited as a major factor which negates the length of travelling time that will be involved.

Making such a big play of that would seem to limit the geographical extent of any future increases, but Anayi suggested that the five-hour trans-Atlantic difference could be manageable, with North America being strongly linked with a presence at some point.

“Any [further] expansion will have to meet certain criteria,” said Anayi. “Wherever we go we need to have player welfare in mind.

“The logistics of it all, with the time zone being number one. Secondly, are the teams who come in going to be competitive and add something to the league. Then commercially, which is tied into the first two. Is it going to add commercially.

“We could look further into Europe, east coast of North America, or further into South Africa. We’ve set ourselves up to be able to grow. It’s in our DNA to be cross-border in outlook, so we should look again, at the right time, if it’s possible to grow again.”

The first Guinness Pro14 final will take place at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on 26 May next year.

The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast was the first neutral venue in 2015, when Glasgow won the Pro12, after the final had previously been held at the home ground of the highest seeded finalist. A year later, BT Murrayfield became the first “destination final” at a major international stadium. A crowd of 34,500 watched Connacht surprise Leinster in the 2016 final and it had been speculated that it may be the turn of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to host the showpiece, but a scheduling clash means it returns to Dublin.