Washington DC is reportedly set to join the Guinness Pro 12 in 2018. Iain Morrison of The Scotsman notes that the USA capital is to have a team join the Celtic-Italian League.
Before expansion to the USA happens, though, the league will already have two South African teams. The Southern Kings and the Cheetahs are to join for the coming season after being discarded from Super Rugby. This will make it the Pro 14 or could see the competition re-branded.
The competition will become European, African, and North American the following season. Washington DC’s inclusion would make it a 15-team setup, mimicking the new Super Rugby model. With the Kings, Cheetahs, and one Australian franchise – either the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force – set to be cut, Super Rugby will revert to 15 teams in 2018.
Pro 12 expansion may require an altered format. At present the teams each play home-and-away against their 11 rivals. Morrison points out that the competition could retain its round-robin design or potentially move to a two-conference system.
Expansion would drastically alter the travel time for teams involved. At present there are no major distances between competing teams. Scotland to Italy is a 3-hour flight. Johannesburg to London is far further, taking 12 hours. From there connections would be required to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. A flight from Washington DC to Ireland is notably shorter, taking around 7 hours.
Houston had initially been proposed as the location for a USA side. Sources close to Americas Rugby News have said the Texan bid was considered underwhelming by Pro 12 authorities. Moreover flight time from Houston to the UK or Ireland is two hours further than from Washington DC. Investors were also keen on New York but logistics and timing have proved a major obstacle.
According to Morrison, the principle backer of the venture is former US Eagles international Paul Sheehy, who won four senior caps as a fullback split between 1991 and 1992 and was part of the 1991 Rugby World Cup squad. The 53-year-old DC native is a partner and director of Sheehy Auto Stores, a family-owned dealer group with 24 stores in the DC area. Sheehy is also an Assistant Coach at Gonzaga College HS and a contributor to the USA Rugby Trust.
The proposed venue for home games is Audi Field, a new stadium currently under construction that will also house Major League Soccer franchise DC United. Its planned capacity is 20,000. Current USA Rugby Chairman of the Board Will Chang is a former investor in DC United but sold his 35% stake in 2016.