Last May one of the finest sports on tv, the final of the Guinness Pro14, garnered a huge live tv audience all excited by the prospect ahead. The match signalled the climax of months of top level, professional international club rugby coming to an epic boil as Ireland’s Leinster Rugby brilliantly overcame a valiant effort by Glasgow Warriors in a 15-18 win at Celtic Park. It made for truly fantastic live sports on tv. Be sure to catch every game's schedule right here!
Connacht – Benetton Treviso
For those asking what exactly is the Guinness Pro14 and how does it work, you have come to the right place. The Pro14, formerly the Pro12, is an annual rugby union competition contested by 14 teams drawn from Wales, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and South Africa.
In the ten years that the tournament has been going, the final has only ever been played in Ireland or Scotland. Now, for the first time ever, next year’s final will not be held in either but will instead be played in Cardiff, Wales at the 33,280 capacity Cardiff City Stadium. The game will be scheduled on the weekend of June 20, with the league season delayed by a month due to the Japanese 2019 Rugby Union World Cup. So, what is the Guinness Pro14, where does it come from and how does it work?
The tournament started life in 2001 as The Celtic League with the number of teams, all drawn from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, fluctuating between 15 and 10 for the first decade before two Italian sides - Benetton Treviso and Aironi (now replaced by Zebre) - were invited to play in 2011 and the tournament was renamed The Pro12. Since the 2009–10 season, a play-off structure has been in place to determine the champions. Before this, there were two groups and a knockout match that would decide the winner.
From 2017 onwards, the league has utilised a conference structure that includes derby games, where sides drawn from the same nation play against each other. This is also when the league was expanded into the Pro14 we know today. The expansion came due to the inclusion of two South African franchises, the Southern Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs.
Since 2015, the venue of the final has been decided before the tournament begins, with venues bidding to host beforehand. On that note, the 2020 final will be held at Cardiff City Stadium in the Welsh capital.
The tournament is split in to two conferences with seven teams in each, equally split including two Irish and two Welsh, plus one apiece from Scotland, Italy and South Africa. All teams play at least 21 matches, including home and away games against their conference rivals, plus a game against each of the seven teams from the other conference. Teams from Italy, Scotland and South Africa play an extra derby match to level up their schedule.
After the league stage, six clubs - the top three from each conference - go through to the knockout stages, known as The Pro14 Final Series or post-season. Any teams still in contention by this stage are also rewarded with qualification to the EPCR Champions Cup and are joined by the highest scoring fourth-placed team, with the exception of sides from South Africa.
The first 21 rounds run from August through April, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals taking place in May to determine the two finalists who then meet at a pre-designated venue.
The teams that compete for the Guinness Pro14 are as follows:
From Wales; Ospreys (Liberty Stadium, Swansea), Cardiff Blues (Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff), Dragons (Rodney Parade, Newport), Scarlets (Parc y Scarlets stadium, Llanelli)
From Ireland; Munster (Thomond Park, Limerick), Connacht (Galway Sportsgrounds, Galway), Leinster, Ulster (Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast)
From Scotland; Glasgow Warriors (Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow), Edinburgh (Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh)
From Italy; Zebre (Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma), Benetton Treviso (Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso)
From South Africa; Toyota Cheetahs (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein), Southern Kings (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Records and Stats
Scotland’s Australian born Fly-Half, Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), who retired from the sport in 2012, remains the Pro14’s highest points scorer on 1582, ahead of Welsh Outside-Half Dan Biggar who left the Ospreys last year and so won't be competing next season despite being on 1573 points and closing in on Parks’ record.
As for tries, the record scorer is Ireland’s Tommy Bowe who has played for both The Ospreys and Ulster and has banked 67 career tries. Next up is Tim Visser (Edinburgh), Scotland’s Dutch-born Winger, who has scored 58.
Part of Dan Biggar’s points record comes from the fact that he has the highest conversion rate in Pro14, with 247, ahead of the 212 banked by Ian Keatley, currently of Benetton Treviso. As well as being the Pro14's highest try scorer, Dan Parks has also kicked a record 327 penalties, beating Keatley into second place again who has scored a decent 301.
The 2019 winners, Leinster from Ireland are the most successful side in Pro14 history, having amassed some six championships. Wales' Ospreys have collected four wins, most recently in 2012, while Munster, also of Ireland, have three. Welsh team LLaneli Scarlets have two, while Irish teams Ulster and Connacht have one each as does Glasgow Warriors of Scotland.
This past season, Benetton made history by beating Zebre to become the first ever Italian side to make the Guinness PRO14 post-season, while the final at Celtic Park boasted a record crowd of 47,128 beating the previous two finals, both at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, which attracted 44,558 and 46,092.
Media Coverage and TV Sport Guide: Where to Watch Pro14
For anyone hoping to watch the Guinness Pro14 on TV, one of the most exciting sports today on tv remember, you will find this event live and exclusively available on Premier Sports. They will show all 152 Guinness Pro14 on tv, across its digital channels including Premier Sports 1 and Premier Sports 2. For non-subscribers, there will also be an additional 21 live games shown on FreeSports, a free-to-air channel. In some circumstances, Welsh and Irish teams will be broadcast live on S4C and TG4 as well, so there are plenty of ways for fans to watch Pro14 on tv.