CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - British Lions centre Jonathan Davies says the addition of two South African teams into the PRO14 tournament from next month offers players in the Celtic league a chance to test themselves against tough opposition on a regular basis.
"That's what you want as a rugby player, to test yourself against some of the best in the world and at the highest level. To have two teams who have been exposed to Super Rugby for a number of years coming to our league is only going to be a positive," Davies told Reuters on Friday.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a launch in Cape Town to mark the inclusion of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings into the northern hemisphere competition, which is made up of clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Davies' Welsh club Scarlets start the defence of their title at home to the Kings in Llanelli on September 1. They will travel to South Africa towards the end of the year for a return match against the Kings in Port Elizabeth on November 26 and the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on December 2.
"For our club, it's a chance to go out on tour together, be away for at least two weeks, bond together and experience a new rugby culture. Plus we’ll get some sunshine," the Welsh international centre quipped.
"The longest we went away as a club previously was just a couple of days, but the opportunity to come and test ourselves against South African sides is perfect," he said. "It's great for the competition to build and expand. It will be an extremely strong test. You know you have been in a game when you've played South African teams and to have that up against you regularly in a league structure is great for us."
Davies is fresh from the Lions' tour to New Zealand where the quality of provincial opposition gave him a good idea of the standard in the southern hemisphere. "Every game was almost at test match intensity," he said.
While the two South African teams, culled from Super Rugby last month, might not have been at the same level of the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Chiefs, they are expected to do well, even with the travelling between the two hemispheres.
"Recent result have shown the gap between the northern and southern hemisphere rugby has closed and going forward this can only be good for the game. We'll get a better idea when we see how everyone fares in the autumn," Davies added.
The PRO14 kicks off next month and runs through to May next year.
Editing by Susan Fenton