The proposed cross-hemisphere competition is now dead.
Instead, there will now be two tournaments. Teams from Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and Wales will play for the ‘northern’ Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup, while the four South African franchises - Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls - will contest the Rainbow Cup SA.
The Guinness Pro14 season was curtailed to make room in the calendar for the Rainbow Cup, which was designed to introduce the South African Super Rugby franchises into the European game ahead of their likely assimilation into an expanded Pro16.
However, travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have finally put the kibosh on South African teams playing in Europe.
A statement from Pro14 said: “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 tournament is scheduled to begin on Friday with Edinburgh due to host Zebre. Glasgow Warriors will play Benetton in Treviso on Saturday.
The two Scottish sides will then meet in back-to-back derbies on May 7 and 15.
The fixtures for rounds four, five and six were due to see the South African teams play Pro14 clubs but will now be modified to reflect the new “dual tournaments”.
Jurie Roux, the chief executive of SA Rugby, said: “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.”
Martin Anayi, the chief executive of PRO14 Rugby, said: “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.”
A Scottish Rugby spokesperson said: “While it is disappointing the Rainbow Cup cannot progress in its intended format we would like to thank colleagues at PRO14 for all their efforts in developing and progressing this concept. Covid-19 has impacted sport at numerous levels and the safety of everyone in this pandemic must remain the priority. We look forward to the Rainbow Cup in its new, revised format and wish Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors well in their up-coming matches.”