The Guinness PRO14 league is to be reduced to a 12-team competition next season with confirmation that its two South African franchises– the Southern Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs – will not take part in the 2020-21 campaign due to on-going travel restrictions enforced by the South African government.

“Work is already underway to concentrate the opening 2020-21 fixtures among the 12 European-based clubs [including Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors],” said a statement issued by the league.

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The decision was announced yesterday afternoon, several hours after news broke that the Kings have suspended all rugby activity for the remainder of 2020 due to financial issues, highlighting the precarious position of professional sport at the moment after five months of inactivity.

Both pieces of news are major setbacks to the league. The introduction of the South African sides in 2017 was heralded as a significant step towards developing the competition as a global brand.

Kings found themselves in a particularly vulnerable position after a takeover attempt of the Eastern Province franchise collapsed in June, leaving the South African rugby union to take on the burden.

“Following several weeks of interrogation of the Kings’ financial state of affairs we were left with a straightforward choice,” said Kings board chairman Andre Rademan. “We could opt to field the Kings in the domestic competitions mooted by SA Rugby for the sport’s post-lockdown resumption if we so wished.

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“If we did so, it would require additional loans to the Kings or extra investment from the shareholders to the tune of R6.5 million (£295k), which would add to the organisation’s existing substantial debt.

“This is obviously very disappointing news for the players and management who, like all rugby professionals, were desperate to resume playing," he added. "But the board believed that further investment in 2020 with zero commercial return would be reckless in the extreme.

“As a board we had been considering further short-term contracts to see the squad through to the end of the year. But it became apparent that we would, for want a better phrase, be throwing good money after bad in the current global environment.”