The Rainbow Cup has been binned after Guinness PRO14 officials bowed to the inevitable that teams from South Africa would not be able to travel to Europe as planned in May to complete the latter rounds of the one-off tournament that was a filler competition ahead of next season’s extended PRO16.
Cross-hemisphere fixtures had been planned from rounds four to six before a mid-June finals weekend but that format had been shelved, leaving clubs north and south of the equator to ensure they have some matches to play before the end of the season.
The outcome is a farce for the PRO14 who were hoping to use the Rainbow Cup as an introductory to Europe of the four South African franchises they have brought into the fold, the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks, after cutting ties with the Cheetahs and the now-defunct Southern Kings.
PRO14 officials insisted the cancellation of the cross-hemisphere Rainbow Cup matches won’t affect the long-term aim of starting the PRO16 as planned next season, but there can be no guarantee that concerns about the pandemic will have been alleviated by September.
A PRO14 statement read: “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.
"Quite a weird accident…"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 20, 2021
“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 four, five and six 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, the Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Bulls whose World Cup-winning Springboks are priming themselves for the arrival of the British and Irish Lions.
“A wide stakeholder group, led by a working group between the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby, produced a long list of various options for entry of the teams, base camps and high-standard medical protocols across the past four months to cater for different scenarios.
“In total, twelve 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 from this. Destinations in the Middle East were also explored as potential hosts for fixtures involving South African teams.
“This process produced project plans for each venue to include suitable training and accommodation facilities and charter travel schedules under the constant guidance of a medical management committee, consisting of the PRO14 medical consultant, tournament staff and union chief medical officers. This group tracked the status of Covid-19 in the various territories and advised on the strategic approach to governments at all times.
“This (cancellation) 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 ground-breaking 2021/22 season onwards will be made public shortly.”
PRO14 CEO Martin Anayi said: “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.
“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.”
SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux added: “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 ten 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.”
Looking swell, Sam Warburton?https://t.co/V00PyLhrig
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 21, 2021
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