South African sides Cheetahs and Southern Kings have moved a step closer to joining the Pro12 by agreeing their departure from Super Rugby.
Both sides are free “to explore other international opportunities” after reaching an agreement with the South African Rugby Union.
The Kings and Cheetahs are set to link up with the Pro12 from next season.
Super Rugby will be cut from 18 to 15 teams next season, with the exit of one Australian and two South African sides.
A special SA Rugby general meeting in Cape Town on Friday formally announced South Africa’s four participants in Super Rugby next season.
As well as the four teams from South Africa – the Sharks, Lions, Bulls and Stormers – the restructured competition will comprise five from New Zealand, four from Australia and one each from Argentina and Japan.
The Cheetahs have opted for a settlement with SA Rugby despite having an agreement in place to play until 2020.
Cheetahs chief executive Harold Verster welcomed the prospect of a move into another international competition.
He said: “It will be an exciting challenge for our players, supporters and commercial partners and will be the start of a new chapter for rugby both in our region and in South Africa.”
Andre Rademan – president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union, the Kings’ controlling body – said: “It has been a rollercoaster ride for the franchise for a number of seasons but there is now a clear and viable way forward for rugby in the Eastern Cape to build on the foundations that have been laid – particularly in the past season.”
Rademan added that “the chance to test ourselves against different opposition in different conditions is a mouth-watering one”.