CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The cross-hemisphere Rainbow Cup that pits South Africa’s former Super Rugby sides against PRO14 opposition will kick off on April 24, but the completion of the competition remains at the mercy of travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
South Africa’s Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will take part in preparation for their expected entry into a new, expanded PRO16 competition from the 2021-22 season that will see them take on clubs from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
The first three rounds of the Rainbow Cup, to be played between April 24-May 15, will mostly consist of local derbies while organisers assess travel restrictions that would allow the South African sides to travel to the Northern Hemisphere, and vice-versa.
"It’s disappointing that the teams from Europe won’t be able to come to South Africa yet, but there is a bigger picture in play and it will be good to get the ball rolling with the Rainbow Cup. Plans are being made for our teams’ away games later in the series," SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said in a media release on Friday.
"It’s also paramount to remember that we are living in extraordinary times and that forces outside our control can still put a damper on the plans, but we are working tirelessly with all relevant stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition into Europe for our teams."
South Africa has been the hardest hit nation on the continent by COVID-19, with the highest number of confirmed cases at over 1.5 million, with more than 50,000 related deaths.
The rollout of vaccines has been slow, with only 207,000 people, mainly frontline health workers, inoculated so far.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)