The Magners League could welcome two Italian teams to the competition, it was announced today.
Providing certain criteria are met, the Celtic Rugby Board today announced that they had agreed in principle for the new teams to enter the competition during the 2010/11 season.
The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) have been informed of the decision, which was discussed at a Celtic Rugby Board meeting yesterday.
Board chairman John Hussey said: "Two Italian teams will join the Magners League subject to a number of conditions being met.
"These conditions, which will be clearly defined, fall under main headings of playing and facility standards, finance and commercial including television.
"This will be a comprehensive process and will take some time. The board therefore decided that participation could not commence before 2010/2011 season."
The FIR have been keen to secure entrance into the Magners League to expose Italian players to a higher level of competition.
Italy have been the weakest team since entering the RBS 6 Nations in 2000 with this year's bottom placed finish underlining the need to make changes to their club game.
The FIR will enter two franchises - based in either Milan, Rome or Treviso - who will divide the best players operating in the country between them.
But concerns exist over potential revenue loss with few existing Magners League teams - made up of four sides from Ireland and Wales and two from Scotland - likely to tolerate a drop in earnings to accommodate the Italians.
Hussey said: "The Magners League is one of the top professional rugby union tournaments in the world.
"That quality is demonstrated by the fact that in the deciding Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland no less than 42 out of the 44 players who took part play their rugby in the Magners League.
"Four of this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finalists are Magners League teams.
"It's essential that any changes to the structure of this great competition maintain the highest standards."Reuse content