No formal approvals to allow South African teams to enter the UK and Ireland for their Rainbow Cup matches, Guinness PRO14, PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby will operate dual tournaments no encounters between hemispheres.
Despite a colossal effort, South African teams did not get permission to travel in time to allow that the Rainbow Cup and Guinness PRO14 were played as originally planned. These challenges are not unique to rugby, as many international sports have found the Covid-19 pandemic to be a difficult landscape to plan for.
All options for South African teams to travel to Europe safely were explored and exhausted by the league, this is due to the increased restrictions caused by the presence of South Africa in the red list of the territories involved.
The Rainbow Cup Iris Guinness PRO14 ‘of the North’ will still take place on the previously published dates, as teams from across Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales aim to win the throne of the eight-time title winner Leinster Rugby. Rounds 4, 5 and 6 matches had already been scheduled and provided to clubs, but South African teams will now be removed and kick-off times may be changed prior to publication.
The ‘southern’ tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA and will include the better than club rugby South Africa has to offer; Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls, whose World Cup winning Springboks are preparing for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions. These games will be available in the UK and Ireland with current PRO14 Rugby television partners and full details of this competition will be confirmed by SA Rugby shortly.
ALL ROADS CLOSED
A broad group of stakeholders, led by a working group between the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby, produced a long list of various options for team entry, base camps and high-level medical protocols in recent years. four months to attend to different scenarios.
In total, 12 locations in the UK, Ireland and Europe were considered as base camps for South African teams to operate out of or use as a quarantine destination before entering the UK and Ireland. SA Rugby also explored four other separate locations from this. In addition, destinations in the Middle East were also explored as possible hosts for matches involving South African teams.
This process produced project plans for each venue to include adequate training and accommodation facilities and charter travel schedules under the constant guidance of a Medical Management Committee, comprised of the PRO14 medical consultant, tournament staff, and the medical directors of the Union. This group tracked the status of Covid-19 in the various territories and advised governments on the strategic approach at all times.
Throughout this process, PRO14 Rugby has enjoyed strong support from governments and health authorities in all jurisdictions.
NO IMPACT ON LONG-TERM PARTNERSHIP
This decision will have no impact on the long-term partnership between PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby and further details on those plans and the league structure for the innovative 2021/22 season onwards will be made public shortly.
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said: “An astonishing volume of work has been done to provide a number of proposals and options to accommodate this, all while navigating the challenges of the second and third waves of Covid-19, as well as the South African variant that constantly changed the landscape in which we were operating.
“Between our unions, our own staff and SA Rugby there is nothing more that could have been asked in terms of designing plans that were medically sound, yet a perfect solution has not been found in time to allow South African teams to enter our territories.
“While the outcome is clearly different from what we intended, our relationship and partnership with SA Rugby has been greatly strengthened and improved by this experience. We look forward to the two Rainbow Cup competitions and will share our intentions on our future partnership in due course, which will be fueled by the experiences and project planning involved thus far ahead of the 2021/22 season.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, He said, “It’s a huge disappointment, but time is just running out.”
“No stone was left unturned in trying to find a solution to the challenges, including basing our teams for 10 days at locations in the Middle East or Europe. But the pieces of the puzzle would not fit together in time to allow us to put those plans into action. “
The full match schedule for the Rainbow Cup Iris Guinness PRO14, including kick-off times and broadcaster information, will be released shortly.