Simon Borchardt

Cheetahs don’t deserve Pro14 axe

According to a report over the weekend, South Africa’s four Super Rugby franchises (Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers) could join an expanded Pro16 tournament, with the country’s current Pro14 participants (Cheetahs and Kings) getting the chop.

This could happen as early as the 2021-22 European season.

There are several good reasons why South Africa should ditch Super Rugby and go north, including reduced travel, similar time zones and the fact that many fans have lost interest in Super Rugby.

However, the addition of South Africa’s four Super Rugby franchises to a Pro16 should not come at the expense of the Cheetahs. In fact, it would be grossly unfair to give the Bloemfontein-based franchise the boot after just three seasons in the Pro14 having axed them from Super Rugby in 2017.

In their first Pro14 season, the Cheetahs qualified for the six-team playoffs. They lost 17 players (including Francois Venter and Uzar Cassiem) at the end of that season, yet have remained competitive over the past two seasons. They have struggled in Europe, but have a good home record.

Of their 55 matches in the Pro14, the Cheetahs have won 26, lost 28 and drawn one. That’s quite decent if you compare their player budget to those of the European clubs they play against.

The Cheetahs were still in playoff contention before the current season was suspended in mid-March and there’s reason to believe they’ll be even better next season, having made some good signings, including the big one of Springbok Frans Steyn.

Those players were attracted to the Cheetahs by, among other things, the prospect of playing in the Pro14. How can you now tell them they might not?

And where would the Cheetahs go?

Would it be possible for them to return to Super Rugby when the Aussies and Kiwis have made it clear the tournament would be better off without South Africa? Would they have to go cup in hand to Australian businessman Andrew Forrest and ask for a place in Global Rapid Rugby, the tournament created to give the Force some games?

The Cheetahs do not, and should not, be put in that position by SA Rugby.

– Borchardt is the editorial director of Follow him on Twitter.