South African sides set to withdraw from Rainbow Cup
The newly formed intercontinental competition was set to kick off this weekend
The newly formed Rainbow Cup was set to kick off this weekend, with the Stormers hosting the Sharks in Cape Town. File photograph: Getty Images
The Rainbow Cup is, unsurprisingly, to be scrapped even before it started, or at any rate the South African Rugby Union will today confirm that their sides are withdrawing from the competition.
According to reports in the South African media, the involvement of their four Super Rugby franchise, the Sharks, Bulls, Stormers and Lions, in the planned intercontinental Rainbow Cup “is set to implode due to a lack of necessary clearances just days away from the scheduled kick-off.”
The newly formed competition - featuring the four big South African franchises as well as teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales - was set to kick off this weekend, with the Stormers hosting the Sharks in Cape Town while the Vodacom Bulls were scheduled to welcome the Lions at Loftus.
South Africa’s teams have been stuck in a period of frustrating limbo as they awaited the green light to head into the planned opening derby fixtures of the Rainbow Cup.
The hybrid competition was imperiled just over a week ago when the South Africa’s four participating teams were told to suspend their visa applications over issues that arose around clearance from the UK government to be based in the planned Bristol base.
Pro14/Rainbow Cup organisers maintained that alternative plans were being explored to find a base, or bases, for the four South African teams and announced kick-off details for the first three rounds of matches, which were largely confined to derbies in each of the participating countries.
It’s likely that the remaining 12 teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy will continue with the first three rounds as outlined - with Ulster hosting Connacht this Friday and Leinster meeting Munster at the RDS on Saturday evening - before three rounds of cross-border matches from the four countries fill the remaining three rounds and then the final on June 19th - as currently scheduled.
While tournament organisers have to be flexible in these challenging times, even so it means that curtailing this season’s Pro14, effectively shortening the conference rounds and scrapping two quarter-finals and both semi-finals, was a fruitless and flawed exercise and devalued this season’s Pro14 and shoehorned the final between Leinster and Munster into the week after the conclusion of the Six Nations.
There has as yet been no comment from the tournament organisers.
This development will have financial implications for all concerned, especially the SARU, and also undermines South Africa’s preparations for the planned eight-match tour by the British and Irish Lions this summer.