South Africa Rugby (SA Rugby) is in negotiations with Guinness PRO14 organisers to add additional teams to the European competition in the coming seasons, the latter confirmed on Wednesday.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings have competed in the competition since 2017, though the latter will be replaced in 2021 after being put into liquidation by SA Rugby.
"SA Rugby's long-standing commitments are to field two teams in the PRO14, and, in light of the withdrawal of the Southern Kings, discussions are ongoing about fulfilling this agreement from 2021 using a replacement team from its current professional franchises," PRO14 Rugby said in a statement.
"Additionally, both PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby are in early discussions about potentially expanding the tournament and deepening our partnership to include more South African franchises from 2021."
The Cheetahs and Kings have been forced to withdraw from the 2019-20 season due to travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SA Rugby chief executive Jourie Roux said inJuly that the union was looking at options outside Super Rugby for its domestic teams. Talk of moving away from playing Australasian and Argentine teams in favour of European opposition has been mooted for some time.
"Ultimately, we can't project what rugby will look like in years to come, and to do that would be very bold and brave because the only thing you can be sure of is that there will be change. I wouldn't be doing my job not to look at Plan B or Plan C," Roux said.
Europe is attractive to SA Rugby because of its lucrative television market, similar timezone and ease of travel that will help with player welfare, but Andy Marinos, chief executive of SANZAAR, the organisers of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, denies the provincial championship "will never look the same again" if more South African teams join the PRO14.
"I wouldn't say ever again, we've got to be realistic," Marinos told reporters after the announcement of the Rugby Championship draw.
"Are we going to have the ability to move between the four countries [Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa] as freely as what we have in the past, next year? Probably not.
"So there has to be an adjustment within all those countries; we're still working through those permutations as a SANZAAR board before we are able to announce what every country is going to be doing. At the same time you've got to be realistic, and I can't see guys flying between Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Auckland and Sydney next year. So there is going to be a more domestically focused approach I would think, but again the board needs to resolve on that.
"There has been a lot of talk about South Africa in Europe but there has been for the last four years; in fact ever since I've been involved with SANZAAR there has always been that thing sitting in the background 'it's a better timezone, it's more centrally located'. Again that's something that we're going to have to discuss as a group before any decisions are made on that.