Rainbow Cup split into two with South African sides unable to travel

New competition will now be ‘dual tournaments’ in north and south hemispheres

Lukhanyo Am’s Sharks will no longer be travelling to the northern hemisphere for the Rainbow Cup. Photograph: Sydney Seshibedi/Getty

Lukhanyo Am’s Sharks will no longer be travelling to the northern hemisphere for the Rainbow Cup. Photograph: Sydney Seshibedi/Getty

 

The organisers of the Rainbow Cup have confirmed that there will be no cross-hemisphere games involving the four South African sides and, instead, Pro14 Rugby and SA Rugby will operate “dual tournaments”.

As was widely reported on Tuesday, the South African sides were unable to obtain permission to travel to Europe for rounds four to six, which will now be revised. Each of the dozen sides in Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales were due to host one of the South African sides over the course of the last weekend in May and first two weekends in June, but those fixtures have now been shelved just days before this weekend’s first round of matches.

It is an embarrassing, last-minute climbdown for the organisers, who issued a statement this morning on behalf of ‘Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup’.

“Despite a colossal effort, the South African teams were not granted the permission to travel in time to allow the Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup to be played as originally planned. Such challenges are not unique to rugby as many international sports have found the Covid-19 pandemic a difficult landscape to plan for.

“All options for the South African teams to travel to Europe safely were explored and exhausted by the league, this is due to the heightened restrictions caused by South Africa’s presence on the red list of the territories involved.”

While it is undoubtedly a challenging time for rugby and international sports in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Rainbow Cup was the only competition which sought to devise a cross-hemisphere club competition and in doing so they overreached, while in the process devalued the Pro14 in hurriedly bringing it to a conclusion.

While the fixtures for the first three rounds will go ahead as scheduled, featuring six interprovincial derbies beginning with Ulster against Connacht this Friday in the Kingspan Stadium (8.15pm, live on Premier Sport) and Leinster v Munster in the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm, live on eir Sport), the fixtures for rounds four to six have still not been published, nor how the finalists will be determined for the decider, which had been pencilled in for the weekend of June 19th.

“The ‘northern’ Pro14 Rainbow Cup will still take place on the dates previously published as teams from across Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales aim to upset eight-time title winners Leinster Rugby. The fixtures for Rounds 4, 5 and 6 had already been scheduled and provided to clubs, but will now have the South African teams removed and kick-off times may be modified ahead of publishing,” read Wednesdays’s statement.

“The ‘southern’ tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA,” and will be contested by the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls.

“These games will be available in the UK and Ireland with Pro14 Rugby’s current TV partners and full details of this competition will be confirmed by SA Rugby shortly.”

Although not released publicly, The Irish Times has learned that Leinster were to host the Bulls on May 29th, with Munster at home to the Stormers a week later in round five. Ulster were scheduled to play the Lions in round 6 on Friday, June 11th, with Connacht at home to the Sharks a day later.

In addition, Munster were scheduled to play Cardiff on Friday, May 28th, with Ulster at home to the Scarlets and Connacht away to Benetton the next day in round four.

In round five, Connacht are scheduled to host the Ospreys on Friday, June 4th, with Leinster away to Glasgow the same night, and Ulster in Edinburgh the following afternoon.

In round six, on Friday June 11th, Munster are due to play Zebre away, with Leinster hosting the Dragons that evening as well.

The organisers lengthy statement continued by stating: “In total, 12 venues across the UK, Ireland and Europe were considered as base camps for the South African teams to operate out of or to use as a quarantine destination before entering the UK and Ireland. SA Rugby also explored another four locations separate to this. Further, destinations in the Middle East were also explored as potential hosts for fixtures involving South African teams.”

Martin Anayi, CEO of Pro14 Rugby, said: “Whilst the outcome is clearly different from what we had intended, our relationship and partnership with SA Rugby has been greatly strengthened and enhanced by this experience.”

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “This is a huge disappointment, but time had simply run out.”

“No stone was left unturned to try and find a solution to the challenges - including basing our teams for 10 days in locations in the Middle East or Europe. But the pieces of the jigsaw would not fall into place in time to allow us to put those plans into action.”

The statement concluded: “The full fixture schedule for the Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup, including kick-off times and broadcaster information, will be released shortly.”

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