THE RAINBOW CUP limps on, but confirmation that the four South African teams in the tournament will not be able to travel north to play their European opponents means that it has now been split in two.
A statement from tournament organisers PRO14 explained:
The ‘northern’ Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will still take place on the dates previously published as teams from across Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales aim to take 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.
The ‘southern’ tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA and will include the very best of what South African club rugby has to offer; Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls, whose World Cup winning Springboks are priming themselves for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions. 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
This outcome was reached after all other avenues to get the South African teams to Europe were exhausted.
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.
PRO14 were keen to stress that this decision will have no impact on the long-term partnership between PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby and more details about those plans and league structure for the 2021-22 season onwards will be made public shortly.
It has also been reported that SA Rugby have still paid their participation fee, which is worth around €500k to each club, which helps explain why the PRO14 teams were as keen to go down the Rainbow Cup route and worked so hard to make it happen.
“A staggering volume of work has been undertaken to provide a number of proposals and options to accommodate this – all as we navigated the challenges of the second and third waves of Covid-19 as well as the South African variant which constantly changed the landscape we were operating in,” said Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby.
“Among our unions, our own staff and SA Rugby there is no more that could have been asked in terms of designing plans that were medically sound, however, there has been no perfect solution found in time to allow for South African teams’ entry into our territories.
“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. We are looking forward to the two Rainbow Cup competitions and in due course sharing our intentions about our future partnership that will be boosted by the experiences and project-planning involved to this point ahead of the 2021-22 season.”
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.”
A Scottish Rugby spokesperson said: “While it is disappointing the Rainbow Cup cannot progress in its intended format we would like to thank colleagues at PRO14 for all their efforts in developing and progressing this concept. Covid-19 has impacted sport at numerous levels and the safety of everyone in this pandemic must remain the priority. We look forward to the Rainbow Cup in its new, revised format and wish Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors well in their up-coming matches.”
- The full fixture schedule for the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup, including kick-off times and broadcaster information, will be released shortly.