Cape Town - Springbok and Cheetahs scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar says the quality of the PRO14 is right up there with the best leagues in the world.
Pienaar, 35, recently joined the Cheetahs after several years overseas, playing for Irish club Ulster between 2010 and 2017 and French outfit Montpellier between 2017 and 2019.
Speaking at the launch of the 2019/20 PRO14 season in Johannesburg on Thursday, Pienaar said there was a misperception among South Africans about the quality of the event.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings joined the PRO14 in 2017 after losing their Super Rugby status and their games have been accompanied my poor crowd attendances.
There's seemingly a perception among South African fans that the standard of the PRO14 is not the same as Super Rugby, but Pienaar disagreed.
"I played long enough in the PRO14 to know that the quality is really good. I've learnt a lot as a player, the way they approach games, the way they prepare for games," he said.
Pienaar, who played 88 Tests for the Springboks between 2006 and 2015, said the vastly different playing conditions across the continents would make things "interesting".
"Obviously, playing here now in the next few weeks it will be 30 degrees where you can play an attractive brand of rugby. And then you go to Europe in December and it's cold and miserable and you've got to change your tactics a little bit. But I think that's what makes it interesting for us South African teams - you've got to think outside the box a little bit, you've got to prepare differently and your planning and strategy will differ from week to week."
Pienaar added the PRO14 was great at preparing players for Test rugby.
"The rugby over there is really top notch. I played two years in France and there it is probably a bit more forward orientated... a bit slower... because you've got 140-150kg guys running at you. So, it's a different ball game, but as far as the PRO14 is concerned, all the teams are really well coached. All the teams have lots of internationals playing. It's a great competition to be a part of.
"When I first went over the perception back home was that the rugby's not quick enough over there and not the same quality but I disagreed from the beginning. I learnt a lot in my first few years. You play Munster away, Leinster away, Glasgow away... it's tough places to go. The crowds are passionate and it's loud. It's quite daunting going there trying to win. So, it definitely prepares you well for it (Test rugby)."
Pienaar added that playing away games in adverse conditions will bring out the best in players in the long run.
"In Bloemfontein we'll always try to be competitive and win those home matches… because that's really important but I think you've got to bring a level of consistency when you go touring. When you go to Munster and you go to Leinster… and you've been there before... you what's coming and you know what to expect. You've got to embrace the challenge because that’s why you play the game. And that’s the same thing in Test rugby, yes the pressure is a bit more and if you make a mistake you'll get punished but it’s tough places to go to, tough environments. But it's good players you're playing against in sometimes difficult conditions. So it's a great opportunity for guys to experience that and it makes you stronger as a players and person."
When comparing PRO14 to Super Rugby, the former Sharks scrumhalf noted that the southern hemisphere event was a little less structured.
"If you look at northern hemisphere rugby, I think the breakdown is hotly contested. It's a cat fight every time the ball goes into a ruck. It's very competitive and you've got to be very sharp in the way you do things. Super Rugby is probably a little bit more loose with a focus on ball speed and just throwing the ball around… it's not as contested as over there. So, there is definitely different challenges."