PRO14 boss hails shunned Cheetahs and Kings as URC dawns: 'We wouldn't be here without them'

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
The Kings and Cheetahs were SA rugby's European pioneers. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
The Kings and Cheetahs were SA rugby's European pioneers. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
  • Despite no longer being part of the competition, Martin Anayi, the PRO14 boss, praised the Cheetahs and Kings for their role in laying the foundation for SA's new future in Europe.
  • Anayi in particular singled out the Cheetahs for providing the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers with great insights as to how to cope with the demands of rugby in the northern hemisphere.
  • PRO14 and SA Rugby are working together to find new competitions for the Cheetahs and Kings as they "are still very important to us". 

The Cheetahs and Kings might not have possessed the type of pedigree that would've made the PRO14 "sexy" to the South African rugby market, but they still need to be hailed for being pioneers.

Martin Anayi, PRO14 boss and chief of the new United Rugby Championship (URC), on Thursday praised the Cheetahs in particular for selflessly laying the foundation for local franchise's new future in Europe.

The central franchise, after being cut from Super Rugby in mid-2017, took the plunge into uncertainty and joined the powerhouses from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, becoming worthy opposition.

But, in a cruel twist of fate, SA Rugby's general council late last year voted them out of the URC in favour of South Africa's four former Super Rugby teams.

"It's fair to say that (in terms of traction and appeal) the PRO14 was a hit-and-miss thing," said Anayi.

"I don't think that's anything we should be ashamed of on either side. The Cheetahs, actually, did supremely well and made the play-offs in their first tournament.

"They were very hard to beat at home."

Indeed - under the coaching of Rory Duncan - the Cheetahs finished a creditable third in Conference A of 2017/18's inaugural edition before coming unstuck in a quarter-final.

A major player exodus the next season meant they experienced a transitional campaign in 2018/19 before the Covid-19 pandemic took away an almost certain spot in play-offs again last year.

"Did the Cheetahs travel as well as they wanted? No, I think that's going to be a key lesson for the South African sides in the URC," said Anayi.

"We've got the Bulls here in Treviso (Italy) with a bit of head-start with that travel factor (in Saturday's Rainbow Cup final). Learning how it's done in a final though isn't easy. 

"But there's definitely going to be elements of improvement from the examples of the Cheetahs and Kings."

Superior depth is one of the key reasons why SA Rugby and their PRO14 counterparts are hoping the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers will be more title-threatening presences in the expanded tournament, which is slated to kick off in late September.

"From a playing base, the squads are very different and the calibre of those groups of the SA sides coming are noticeable," said Anayi.

"Lessons undoubtedly will need to be learnt, but I don't think we'll see the same on-field results. There will probably an improvement and then the URC will gain traction with South African rugby fans.

"It's a different opportunity and different proposition."

READ | SA teams to contest United Rugby Championship, prospects of Champions Cup participation

Not for a moment, however, did Anayi suggest that the Cheetahs and Kings' presence in the PRO14 wasn't worthy.

"I'm not saying we didn't enjoy having the two sides in our competition. We very much did," he said.

"We're consistently working with SA Rugby to see how we can support those two teams in future competitions and that's because they're very important to us.

"The Cheetahs and Kings helped us achieve our aims at that point in time. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for them initially breaking down the barriers."  

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Having lost the first Test against the British & Irish Lions, can the Springboks recover to win the series?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, they will win the series 2-1. Go Bokke!
55% - 3569 votes
The Boks will win a Test, but will lose the series 2-1.
27% - 1794 votes
It's not looking good. A 3-0 whitewash is on the cards.
18% - 1161 votes