Cheetahs and Southern Kings axed from Super Rugby
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has confirmed Cheetahs and Southern Kings will not compete in Super Rugby in 2018.
Super Rugby governing body SANZAAR has opted to reduce the southern hemisphere's elite club competition from 18 teams to 15 in a bid to safeguard the commercial viability of the tournament.
New sides Jaguares and Sunwolves of Argentina and Japan respectively have been retained, no New Zealand franchises are at risk and one Australian club, either Western Force or Melbourne Rebels, is due to be cut.
SARU has now confirmed where the axe has fallen, amid suggestions the two victims, Cheetahs and Southern Kings, could seek to play in Pro12. Cheetahs chief executive Harold Verster had said in March the franchise would be safe from the chop.
"The Toyota Cheetahs have opted for a settlement with SA Rugby regarding their Vodacom Super Rugby Participation Agreement," SARU and the Cheetahs said in a joint statement.
"The Toyota Cheetahs did not take part in the criteria process as they had an agreement in place till 2020, but the Board of the Cheetahs have decided on an amicable settlement with SA Rugby."
The statement continued: "This will allow the Toyota Cheetahs to explore other international competition opportunities, according to Harold Verster, CEO of the Toyota Cheetahs.
"The board of the Toyota Cheetahs has reviewed the team's future and is extremely positive about the prospect of appearing in alternative international competitions. It will be an exciting challenge for our players, supporters and commercial partners and will be the start of a new chapter for rugby both in our region and in South Africa. Also, it will allow the Toyota Cheetahs to carve out a new and prominent place on the rugby map in South Africa as well as internationally."
A separate joint statement read: "The Southern Kings will embrace the chance to explore new playing opportunities in view of the strategic SANZAAR decision to revamp the Vodacom Super Rugby competition."
Andre Rademan, president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union was quoted as saying: "It has been a roller coaster ride for the franchise for a number of seasons but there is now a clear and viable way forward for rugby in the Eastern Cape to build on the foundations that have been laid - particularly in the past season.
"The chance to test ourselves against different opposition in different conditions is a mouth-watering one. We are therefore not opposed to joining new competitions."
After one campaign in 1997 as the Free State Cheetahs, successors Cheetahs have played in Super Rugby since 2006. Southern Kings made their debut in 2013 but went on hiatus in 2014 and 2015, returning last year.