Where it will end is unclear but the prospect of the Springboks joining an expanded Six Nations at some point should not be discounted.
That is for the future. The present involves a shortened Guinness Pro14 season followed by the new competition featuring South Africa’s big four; Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers, and the 12 teams currently participating in the Pro14, including Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.
The Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup, to give it its full title, will consist of a pool stage (two groups of eight teams) and a final between the pool winners.
Covid permitting, the new tournament will kick off on April 17 with each pool made up of two Irish, two South African, two Welsh, one Italian and one Scottish club. Each team will play one game against each pool opponent, with the final scheduled for June 19 at a venue to be decided. News of a new strain of Covid-19 linked to South Africa has emerged and it remains to be seen what impact, if any, that could have.
The tournament will be broadcast in Scotland by Premier Sports and organisers are keen to stress the link between the Rainbow Cup and the British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa which will take place later that summer.
The new competition will be an opportunity for Springbok players to play cross-border matches ahead of the tour following the big four franchises’ departure from Super Rugby. Without it they faced the prospect of no international club fixtures to prepare for the three-Test series with the Lions.
The Rainbow Cup will consist of 57 matches in total and each South African team will be required to play three away games in Europe. These fixtures will occur in blocks, meaning one trip of two-and-a-half weeks. The intention is for European teams to all play one away game in South Africa but much will depend on travel restrictions.
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill welcomed the new tournament.
“Soon we’ll be testing ourselves against the best sides in South Africa – big names globally in rugby terms – and their Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks, which is a great challenge for any player,” he said. “It’s the kind of opportunity any professional would welcome and seek out.”
His Glasgow counterpart, Danny Wilson, added: “Their style of play and proud rugby traditions will add a new and exciting dimension to the Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup.”
With the Rainbow Cup starting in April, it means the standard 2020-21 Guinness Pro14 campaign will finish after 16 rounds, with the Conference winners facing each other in a final on March 27. There will be no semi-finals.
Round 12 is scheduled to begin on the weekend of February 19-20 and play will continue across five consecutive weeks to March 19-20, with the final the following week.
It means Pro14 fixtures will be played throughout the Six Nations, creating more headaches for Cockerill and Wilson who will again have to cope without their large Scotland international contingents.
Qualification for the European tournaments in season 2021-22 will be decided by rankings after round 16 of the Pro14.
The organisers said they may have to tweak the Pro14 fixtures to accommodate the three Edinburgh v Glasgow derbies.
A message from the Editor: