Irish and Scots give thumbs-up to SA in PRO16 as Nienaber warns of 'big step up'

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Jacques Nienaber (AFP)
Jacques Nienaber (AFP)
  • Ireland and Scotland, the Springboks' toughest opponents in their pool at the 2023 World Cup, have both endorsed South Africa's bigger presence in an expanded PRO16.
  • Both countries believe that the four Super Rugby franchises will enhance the competitiveness of the tournament.
  • Bok coach Jacques Nienaber warns that the move will require SA's franchises to "step up", but he's nonetheless very excited.

The Springboks' most prominent opponents in Pool B of 2023's Rugby World Cup, Ireland and Scotland, have both given a thumbs-up to the increased African flavour in PRO Rugby.

South Africa is expected to boast the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers in an expanded PRO16 by March next year in response to New Zealand and Australia preferring a trans-Tasman future for Super Rugby.

Should things go according to plan, the Boks, Irish and Scots will be highly familiar with each other in three years' time.

"I think everyone's pretty aware of the ramifications that could happen," said Andy Farrell, Ireland's head coach.

"Hopefully for us, we want to play against the best as much as we can. We want our players to do that. For the top South African provinces to join PRO Rugby is something that we'd like to see."

His Scottish counterpart, Gregor Townsend, agreed.

"Likewise, any competition where our players can play close to international level will help the development of our local game," said the former international flyhalf, who boasts a substantial contingent of adopted South Africans in his current squad in Jaco van der Walt, Duhan van der Merwe and Oli Kebble.

"We have that dynamic currently with the PRO14, but if the South African teams who used to play Super Rugby come into our competition, that will only enhance the product.

"I like the idea of us potentially seeing a different kind of rugby in different conditions that South Africa brings."

The South African rugby community has, however, been divided on the issue, with some quarters believing that regular exposure to New Zealand sides kept local rugby strong.

But Jacques Nienaber, the Springboks coach, isn't in doubt over PRO Rugby's competitiveness.

"Having coached there before (with Irish giants Munster), the PRO16 would be very good for our teams," he said.

"I was unbelievably surprised when Rassie (Erasmus) and I started coaching in Ireland to find out that it was one of the most fiercely contested competitions in all facets.

"It's a big step for us as Super Rugby is a little bit different. We'll have to step up in terms of tactics, the weather, different playing surfaces and referees.

"I'm not trying to talk down any other tournament, but PRO Rugby is probably very close to Test rugby. I'm super excited for our players to join."

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