The Currie Cup will feature an eight-team Premier Division and a new qualification round, following the decision to expand the top flight the South African Rugby Union announced on Thursday.
A Special General Council meeting of the 14 member unions gave the required 75% majority to a resolution to go to an eight-team Premier Division and six-team First Division for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The new structure will ensure that the six 'anchor' unions of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises (the Blue Bulls, Sharks, Western Province, Free State Cheetahs, Golden Lions and EP Kings) will be guaranteed their places in the Currie Cup for the next two seasons.
The meeting also approved a resolution to do away with the Super Rugby promotion and relegation mechanism. The effect will be that the current five franchises are entrenched for the 2015 season.
"It has been a thorough process with several false starts but we have reached a decision which is ultimately good for all our members and South African rugby," said Mr Oregan Hoskins, the president of SARU.
"It ensures all 14 provinces have an opportunity to play in the Currie Cup Premier Division while ensuring that our Super Rugby franchises have a stable environment in which to prepare.
"The creation of the new qualifying competition also fills a space in the middle of the rugby season for our non-franchise teams that stretched between the end of the Cup in mid-May and start of the Currie Cup at the end of June.
"It also addresses the anomaly that we have been driving hard for a number of years for the Kings' inclusion in Super Rugby and yet we do not have a place for them in our premier domestic competition.
"This is a good decision for rugby – it gives the non-franchise teams two places in the Premier Division; it allows the Kings to prepare for Super Rugby inclusion in 2016 in the top tier of our domestic competition and it removes the uncertainty of relegation from the teams currently playing in Super Rugby."
The approved format is as follows:
· 2014: Premier Division composition – The six franchise 'anchor' teams plus the Pumas (qualifiers in 2013) and the winner of the new qualifying round, to be played after the Cup final during June and July.
The teams will be divided into two sections on 2013 log positions: Section X ( Western Province, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, EP Kings) and Section Y ( Sharks, Free State, Pumas, Qualifier).
The teams will play home and away within their Sections followed by a single cross-conference round before semi-finals and final.
The qualifying competition will be contested by Griqualand West, Leopards, SWD Eagles, Boland Kavaliers, Griffons, Border Bulldogs and Valke. The teams will play a single round, with each team playing three home and three away matches.
· 2015: Premier Division composition - The six franchise teams plus two non-franchise teams.
They will be decided as follows:
If the two non-franchise teams finish 7th and 8th in the 2014 Currie Cup Premier Division they will both play in a 2015 qualification round of eight teams.
If one non-franchise team finishes in the top six of the 2014 Currie Cup Premier Division they will automatically qualify for the 2015 Currie Cup. The other non-franchise team will play in a 2015 qualifying round of seven teams.
If both non-franchise teams finish in the top six of the 2014 Currie Cup Premier Division, they will automatically qualify for the 2015 tournament and there will be no qualifying tournament in 2015.