Climate of gloom over Rainbow Cup
SA rugby is on the precipice with its participation in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup hanging by a thread because of the pandemic.
The Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions’ cross-border fixtures against PRO14 opposition have had a dark cloud over them for some time, but the climate of gloom intensified with the news that the SA derby matches are now also in peril.
A source told the Sunday Times concern over the derby matches grew after an instruction from SA Rugby to delay payment for internal air travel for those clashes.
It means next Friday’s match between the Stormers and the Sharks, which was supposed to be the PRO14 Rainbow Cup opener at Cape Town Stadium, is now in danger of not taking place.
Pandemic started wreaking havoc
Not playing in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup would however have severe financial implications for SA Rugby, which has had little income since the pandemic started wreaking havoc with the playing schedule. The Springboks have not played since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, and the plug was pulled on the country’s 25-year joint venture in Super Rugby last year.
SA Rugby needs the PRO14 Rainbow Cup and the tour of the British and Irish Lions this year to bolster its coffers.
In the meantime the franchises face uncertain times.
“We don’t know what is going on,” said a team official who wished to remain anonymous. “The Sharks’ tickets to Cape Town were booked but the instruction was to not pay. I don’t know if a curve ball is coming,” the source said.
He said the same applies to the Stormers, who are due to visit the Lions in Johannesburg in round three.
“We completely understand the circumstances
but it is very confusing,” he said.
He added should SA teams not fulfil their Rainbow Cup commitments they would face the same scenario they did earlier in the season when a proliferation of derby matches were the order of the day.
“We could have been going to Europe for two months in a bio bubble in May and June. Now for the players personally, and for motivation, it is a tricky environment. I know the guys are going to struggle with it and the public will as well.
“Playing the same teams in an empty stadium you are not going to get the same output that you will in a full stadium in an exciting competition. The players just aren’t in a good space. That’s the reality,” said the source.
SA teams’ prospects of honouring their matches abroad in the competition have long been receding. Working out the logistics for ever-changing regulations and protocols to limit the spread of Covid-19 has been challenging.
“My understanding was all four SA teams were going to go to Bristol and stay in a bio bubble,” said the source. “A day before the game you’d fly into the different match venues.
“The Irish government gave their approval as did the local governments in Scotland and Wales but as of last week the British haven’t said yes to us being based in Bristol.
Things really started to fall over
“Those UK visa applications are expensive and they could hold those visas. Italy has also been added to the UK’s red list which means we would not be able to get back to the UK from Italy.
“That’s when things really started to fall over. If you are reading what’s happening in Europe it is going in the wrong direction.”
He said his gut feeling is SA’s teams will start playing in the PRO16 later this year but that the PRO14 Rainbow Cup is off.