South African players are excited by the prospect of competing in the Pro12, according to Southern Kings scrum-half Rudi van Rooyen.
The Kings, who play in Port Elizabeth, and the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs are expected to join the league after losing their Super Rugby status.
The Pro12 comprises teams from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy.
“A lot of the players at South African teams would prefer playing in the Pro12,” van Rooyen said.
“Most of the guys are really excited to play in the northern hemisphere - it’s a new challenge, a new type of game, playing new opposition that you don’t know at all.”
Van Rooyen, 25, says the players have not been informed of their immediate future after the Kings’ exit from Super Rugby was confirmed by the national governing body on Friday.
He hopes a berth in the Pro12 would create opportunities for him to impress Springboks selectors - and carve out a more lucrative career path in Europe.
“Most of the South Africans want to earn their pounds or their Euros and I think playing in Europe, playing against Munster or Ulster, the big teams from Ireland or Scotland or Wales can certainly put your foot in the door a bit,” Van Rooyen said.
The Cheetahs, who play in Bloemfontein, are expected to join the Kings in a revamped Pro12
“The only way people in Europe can see you play is clips and games that you send them, but once you start playing against them week in, week out, they can know more about you as a person and how you play.
“I’ve got only about four, five, six years left - you have to make your pounds or your Euros. Playing against the European teams week in, week out, should hopefully make a way for us to get overseas just by playing against the teams there.
“We’re going to play more of a kicking game against the northern hemisphere teams because it is wet most of the time - maybe that’s what the Springboks selectors want for certain games.
South African-born Josh Strauss moved from the Lions to Glasgow Warriors then represented Scotland
“So I think it can really help us to become Boks or to get that big contract in Europe to help you get financial stability for after rugby.
“It can be a huge door to be opened for South Africans wanting to make a few bucks before their time runs out with rugby.”
‘The bodies have taken a few shots’
An ankle injury limited Van Rooyen to two Super Rugby appearances this season, with the Kings’ campaign coming to a close against the Cheetahs on 14 July.
Deon Davids’ side are expected to join the Pro12 for the coming season, which should begin in September, and their scrum-half believes that, with a deeper player pool, his team can be very competitive.
“The bodies have taken a few shots now, but the type of game is totally different,” he said.
“It’s a slower game, so you can manage the bodies a bit better. You just have to get the right squad, with enough guys in specific positions for depth, because it is such a long competition.
“But I think the excitement of the new competition could really boost that. Tiring bodies is one thing, but if you know you can tour Ireland or Scotland, that’s a big motivator.
“The first season might get a bit long, but our depth was tested in Super Rugby and we did exceptionally well.
The Kings have beaten the Bulls and Jaguares on their travels over the past two weekends
“We’ve shown this year we’re a great running side - I think we can bring something new to the Pro12, more running than kicking, and I think that will be good for the Pro12.
“Talent-wise we’ve really stepped up and I think we can be a threat. I don’t see why we’d have to stand back for big teams like Munster.
“I really think we can make our stamp in the first year and build on that. I think, if you just get through the first year and see how things work, you can build on that. I think we can really be contenders growing into the Pro12.”
Van Rooyen insists “there will be big crowds” for Pro12 opposition at the Kings’ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and admits playing against Munster at Thomond Park would be “a dream come true”.
“I watch European rugby week in, week out, and I think a lot of players here do,” he added. “For me, the Pro12 is an awesome competition and it’s a long competition, so you need a big group.
“The Pro12 has good talent - it’s not a watered-down competition, it’s very fierce and competitive and that’s exactly what you want. I’d love to be part of it.”