Leinster and Munster to meet in opening Rainbow Cup fixtures

South African sides will not travel to take on European teams until round four

Leinster and Munster will meet for the fifth time since August. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster and Munster will meet for the fifth time since August. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Necessity being the mother of invention, restrictions on travel and the ensuing need to overload derbies are an understandable consequence of the pandemic. Nonetheless, when the organisers of the Pro14 chose the eve of this season’s final to announce the fixtures for the forthcoming Rainbow Cup, even supporters of Leinster and Munster would have groaned to hear their sides were meeting yet again in round one.

The fixtures for the first three rounds of yet another hybrid competition will be played between April 24th-May 15th. To delay the travel plans of the four former South African Super Rugby franchises for as long as possible, apart from a couple of Italian-Scottish games the first three rounds will consist entirely of derbies in the competing countries, which will now number five.

It might have been a good idea to keep Leinster and Munster apart for as long as possible too, but instead they will meet for a third time this season, and a fifth occasion since the end of August, at the RDS, while Ulster and Connacht will also meet again.

Two weeks later Leinster face Connacht away while Munster welcome Ulster before Connacht take on Munster at the Sportsground and Ulster travel to face Leinster.

South Africa’s Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will take part in preparation for their expected entry into a new, expanded Pro16 competition from the 2021-22 season, and the Rainbow Cup is a means of bringing €6 million into the combined coffers of the other competing teams.

The hope remains that the South African sides will be able to travel to Europe for rounds four to six, after which the top two teams in the league table will face off in the Rainbow Cup final on June 19th.

But the completion of the competition remains at the mercy of travel restrictions due to Covid-19, and hence the organisers’ desire to delay the arrival of the South African sides to these shores for as long as possible is understandable.

South Africa has been the hardest hit nation on the continent of Africa by Covid-19, with the highest number of confirmed cases at over 1.5 million, with more than 50,000 related deaths. The rollout of vaccines has been slow, with only 207,000 people, mainly frontline health workers, inoculated so far.

Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup fixtures

Weekend of April 24th

Ulster v Connacht

Leinster v Munster

Benetton v Glasgow Warriors

Edinburgh v Zebre

Ospreys v Cardiff Blues

Dragons v Scarlets

Vodacom Bulls v Emirates Lions

DHL Stormers v Cell C Sharks

Weekend of May 2nd

DHL Stormers v Vodacom Bulls (Round 2)

Cell C Sharks v Emirates Lions (Round 2))

Weekend of May 8th

Connacht v Leinster

Munster v Ulster

Zebre v Benetton

Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh

Cardiff Blues v Dragons

Scarlets v Ospreys

Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks (Round 3)

Emirates Lions v DHL Stormers (Round 3)

Weekend of May 15th

Munster v Connacht

Leinster v Ulster

Benetton v Zebre

Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors

Scarlets v Cardiff Blues

Dragons v Ospreys

Round 4: Weekend of May 29th

Round 5: Weekend of June 5th

Round 6: Weekend of June 12th

Final: Weekend of June 19th

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