South African Super Rugby teams the Cheetahs and Southern Kings could join the Pro12 pan-European club competition as early as September this year, according to the BBC.
The two franchises are set to be cut from Super Rugby by Sanzaar, organiser of the southern hemisphere contest, as it looks to trim the league from 18 teams to 15 for the upcoming 2018 season. An Australian club will also leave the competition.
However, the move will reportedly clear the way for both the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to join clubs from Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland in the Pro12. The league has not welcomed teams from a different country since Italian sides joined in 2010.
It is not yet clear whether the Pro12 will expand from a 12-team competition to one 14-club league or split into two conferences of seven teams, although the BBC said organisers are likely to opt for the latter format.
The BBC also said that the two South African teams could play some of their home matches in the UK to help ease concerns over travelling to games. The Allianz Arena, home of English Premiership club Saracens, has been mooted as a possible venue for these matches.
Gareth Davies, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, said that although the move is yet to be finalised, the introduction of teams from South Africa would mean a “promising and exciting future” for the Pro12.
“There are discussions going on, which people are aware of, between the Pro12 and South African rugby union and the franchises down there,” Davies told the BBC.
"There is a desire from the South African teams I think to join the Pro12 and I think the Pro12 would like them to join. The Pro12 is a cross border competition already and this just extends this. It makes for a promising and exciting future, if it did happen.
"At the moment it looks like the two teams from Super Rugby that will not be in the competition next year will join (the Pro12). I suspect there will be interest further afield from South African teams as well.”
There is speculation the Pro12 could eventually expand further after organisers last year spoke about adding a new franchise in mainland Europe or the United States.
Davies added: “It just expands the tournament and I think it's an opportunity to develop the game within the northern hemisphere.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of the legal complexities with issues such as broadcasting, commercial and most important, player welfare with all the travelling that has to be done and the logistics associated with that.”
Sanzaar confirmed in April that the new-look Super Rugby will kick off in 2018 with a three-conference, 15-team format comprised of five teams from New Zealand, four from Australia, four from South Africa, one from Japan and one from Argentina. The change will result in the loss of two South African franchises and one Australian team.
South African Rugby is expected to make a decision on which of its franchises are cut on July 7. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) this month maintained its commitment to axing one franchise, with the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels believed to be the teams in jeopardy.