Top South African sides take first step closer to Pro14 with new Rainbow Cup

South Africa’s former Super Rugby sides will be introduced to the Pro14 teams from April 2021 in a new Rainbow Cup competition.

Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions will participate, before potentially joining a new league with sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales from 2021-22 on a permanent basis.

Sixteen teams are scheduled to compete in the Rainbow Cup.

The Pro14 league season will end early, with the final scheduled for 27 March.

Talks to include the four South African teams officially began in September after SA Rugby voted in favour of the move following New Zealand’s plans to launch their own trans-Tasman competition with Australia.

Cheetahs and Southern Kings joined the then Pro12 in 2017 to form an expanded Pro14 competition but their involvement has now ended.

Kings have ceased operations, while Cheetahs have retained their professional franchise status with SA Rugby and are to explore other opportunities to play in international competition.

Finishing the season


The decision to halt the Pro14 early has been made by tournament bosses who are keen to support South African rugby ahead of the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour, as they face the prospect of no international club fixtures to prepare for the Test series against Warren Gatland's side.

The South African sides will be able to include World Cup-winning Springboks Siya Kolisi, Pieter Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Elton Jantjies and Makazole Mapimipi.

This season’s Pro14 tournament has had 12 sides competing in the league. They had been due to play each other once by the middle of January in the opening 11 rounds, although a number of games have been postponed because of Covid-19.

The competition will now be reduced to 16 rounds, with the final five games happening between 20 February and 20 March – a period which includes three Six Nations weekends.

A final on 27 March will be held between the two conference leaders, with the team with the most match points having home advantage.

The top-ranked teams from each conference will qualify for the 2021-22 Heineken Champions Cup.

The exact number of sides that qualify for Europe’s top club tournament will be confirmed once tournament organiser European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announces its competition formats for next season, with a Pro14 play-off still being considered if required.

Original article 23.12.20 on the BBC Sport website.

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