New Zebre side controlled by Italian Rugby Federation to compete in Pro12

Zebre rugby v Scarlets
Zebre finished bottom of the Pro12 table in the 2016-17 season

There will still be two Italian sides in the Pro12 for the 2017-18 season despite the Italian Rugby Federation [FIR] taking control of Zebre.

Zebre released a tweet confirming the takeover and future participation in the Pro12 and European Challenge Cup.

An FIR spokesperson told BBC Wales that Italy will continue to have two teams in the Pro12, honouring an agreement with the Celtic Rugby Board.

The new side will be called Zebre Rugby Club and will still be based in Parma.

This replaces the previous incarnation Zebre Rugby Srl and will be under new management, playing along with Treviso as the two Italian representatives in the league.

Doubts emerged about Zebre's future after players were reportedly not paid for two months and there are still concerns about whether they will play beyond the 2017-18 season.

A fresh company called Zebre Rugby Club Company has been created and a new chief executive and directors have been appointed.

Meetings will take place this week to determine the rebranding of the new side from the old organisation, with matters such as contracts and insurance to be discussed with players and staff.

The uncertainty comes with an official announcement this week expected by Celtic Rugby, the organisation responsible for the Pro12, on the expansion of the league with two South African sides.

The Southern Kings and Cheetahs are set to join sides from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy for the 2017-18 season to expand the league to 14 sides, with a two conference system being suggested.

There have been plans mooted to expand the league even further, with a North American franchise being explored.

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