- SA Rugby has confirmed to its unions that only four franchises would be economically viable for an expanded PRO16.
- This stark reality puts the Cheetahs in the firing line yet again though the federation didn't categorically rule out retaining five franchises.
- A future 14-team qualification tournament for Currie Cup participation also has been mooted.
Six will have to become four, maybe five ... at a stretch.
That is the stark reality staring South Africa's top franchises in the face following SA Rugby's general council meeting on Friday, who also now have official confirmation that the country will no longer be part of Super Rugby.
Sport24 understands that Jurie Roux, the federation's chief executive, told union presidents and CEOs that the current economic climate will realistically only allow for four local teams to be included in an expanded PRO16.
"The presentation was professional and succinct," one of the attendees said.
"To be honest, there weren't any new revelations. The Covid-19 pandemic has complicated the rugby landscape and it was made pretty clear that demand for South African participation in a cross-border tournament would probably have to be limited to four teams."
That scenario puts, as expected, the perennially unlucky Cheetahs in the firing line once again along with the embattled Southern Kings.
Having been cut from Super Rugby in 2017's shake-up, the central franchise now might be booted out of PRO Rugby as well.
A prominent team source told Sport24 earlier this week though that the Cheetahs are contracted to play in the tournament till 2023, a breach of which would have serious legal repercussions.
However, Roux's presentation also included the possibility of SA Rugby retaining five teams.
"The door isn't shut on five teams but the headache, as we know, is finding a tournament for the fifth franchise," said another administrator.
SA Rugby's general council will have about a month to report back to their constituencies before a vote on the issue will be made.
Another interesting proposal is the possibility of a 14-team qualifying tournament for the Currie Cup in future.
It's understood such a shoot-out would grant the smaller unions a more purposeful existence, while also saving on costs of hosting a SuperSport Rugby Challenge as well as a First Division.
Details on a format and time frame are still sketchy though.