Fixtures for the schedule-filling Rainbow Cup have been revealed and rather than it being the full-on cross-hemisphere tournament it was initially billed as, the first half will be a series of local derbies in the hope that the pandemic situation will sufficiently clear and present travel opportunities between South Africa and Europe.
The tournament was dreamed up as the forerunner to next season’s revamped Guinness PRO16 where the four South African franchises who played in the cancelled 2020 Super Rugby reason will play in the European league featuring teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
Officials will hope the pandemic will have finally settled down to enable the 2021/22 league season to go ahead as hoped, but the current state of flux regarding travel will result in the Rainbow Cup opening with an avalanche of local games that are essentially a reprise of recent PRO14 and Super Rugby Unlocked fixtures.
For instance, the 2020/21 PRO14 season will culminate in a final between Leinster and Munster at the RDS in Dublin this Saturday and those same two teams are now slated to meet again in just four weeks’ time to kick-start the Rainbow Cup.
It will be only in late May when the schedule is shaken up and the South African franchises will travel to Europe for three rounds of matches before the top two teams in the standings face each other in a June 19 final. No European team will have to travel to South Africa.
'You can’t be angry at the coach if he doesn’t pick you. If he didn’t ever give you a chance you might have an opinion about it'@AriGold_Botha on Munster exit, life BTS at Jake White's @BlueBullsRugby & his dream of being a Bok again – w/ @heagneyl ??? https://t.co/4egoJMwvAJ
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Tournament director David Jordan said: “Everyone is glad that we can now put some certainty into the rugby calendar in what has been an unpredictable period. Planning for a cross-hemisphere competition where the situation has been so fluid has provided many challenges, but we believe we have found a solution that is practical and safe to deliver a unique competition that supporters can get excited about.
“Throughout the Guinness PRO14 season, we have liaised with our unions and their governments to ensure we are meeting the conditions set out for elite sport to operate. We are very grateful for that support, without which a cross-border competition such as ours could not have taken place.”
GUINNESS PRO14 RAINBOW CUP FIXTURES
R1 – Weekend of April 24
Ulster v Connacht, Leinster v Munster, Benetton v Glasgow, Edinburgh v Zebre, Ospreys v Cardiff, Dragons v Scarlets, Bulls v Lions, Stormers v Sharks
R2 – Weekend of May 1, (EPCR semi-final weekend)
Stormers v Bulls, Sharks v Lions
R2 – Weekend of May 8
Connacht v Leinster, Munster v Ulster, Zebre v Benetton, Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues v Dragons, Scarlets v Ospreys
R3 – Weekend of May 8
Bulls v Sharks, Lions v Stormers
R3 – Weekend of May 15
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 29
Round 5: Weekend of June 5
Round 6: Weekend of June 12
Final: Weekend of June 19
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 26, 2021
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