URC statement: European teams playing in South Africa next month
The United Rugby Championship (URC) ays it has taken measures to avoid a repeat of the repatriation issues that surrounded the postponement of eight matches in South Africa last year after they were rearranged for March. Cardiff, Munster, the Scarlets and Zebre Parma had all been due to play two rounds of fixtures in the country in November and December – the competition’s first matches in South Africa in its inaugural season.
However, news of the imposition of fresh travel restrictions in the wake of the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 after the teams had arrived in the southern hemisphere threw those plans into disarray.
Following initial difficulties in securing clearance for charter flights, the Scarlets and Zebre made it out of South Africa within a couple of days.
However, Munster and Cardiff saw their returns further delayed by positive tests, while quarantine periods impacted all four teams’ European matches on subsequent weekends, leading to severely weakened line-ups and forfeited fixtures.
The matches have now been confirmed for March 11-13 and 18-20, with the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers all welcoming northern hemisphere opposition for the first time in the competition.
A URC statement read: “After review of the repatriation process that occurred in December, the URC will ensure that significant on-call measures are in place in the unlikely event of such circumstances occurring again. Additionally, the league’s direct relationship with the relative government and health departments has also been strengthened.”
CEO Martin Anayi added: “Through a sporting lens, covid has thrown a lot at us but we are very optimistic that the effort and coordination involved to get back on track should reward us with a lot of entertaining rugby and a tremendous finish to the first URC season.”
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