Cross-hemisphere fixtures in Rainbow Cup cancelled after travel restrictions

The games involving Pro14 teams and South Africa sides have been cancelled
The games involving Pro14 teams and South Africa sides have been cancelled

The Rainbow Cup will now be split into dual tournaments after South Africa teams were denied travel permissions to play their games in Ireland and the United Kingdom due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

As a result, the fixtures involving the 12 Pro 14 teams and the four South African sides Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers were cancelled. As a result the four South African teams will be playing a separate competition which will be rebranded as Rainbow Cup SA.

"With no formal approvals in place to allow the South African teams to enter the UK & Ireland for their Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup fixtures, PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby will operate dual tournaments with no cross-hemisphere fixtures," a statement read on Wednesday.

"Despite a colossal effort, the South African teams were not granted the permission to travel in time to allow the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup to be played as originally planned. Such challenges are not unique to rugby as many international sports have found the Covid-19 pandemic a difficult landscape to plan for.

"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.

"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."

It is understood that various options were considered to get the competition underway including having a base camp for South Africa teams in UK, Ireland and Europe while options in Middle East were also discussed but eventually had to call off the cross-hemisphere fixtures.

"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.

"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."

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux expressed disappointment on the news.

“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.”