Rainbow Cup statement to provide clarity on new tournament

Two days before it is due to start, the Rainbow Cup has been plunged into uncertainty amid reports that the four South African teams are to withdraw.

The Stormers are due to face the Sharks in the opening Rainbow Cup fixture. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images
The Stormers are due to face the Sharks in the opening Rainbow Cup fixture. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Edinburgh are due to host Zebre on Friday night while Glasgow Warriors are scheduled to play Benetton in Treviso on Saturday.

These games will go ahead and a statement is expected from organisers Pro14 on Wednesday to clarify the future of the competition.

The two Scottish sides are due to meet in back-to-back derbies on May 7 and 15 and while there is little to stop those fixtures taking place, the likely absence of the South African clubs undermines the competition’s key purpose.

Former Worcester Warriors lock Pierce Phillips has agreed to join Edinburgh next season from French side Agen. Picture: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

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.

Given the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of a cross-hemisphere competition was always ambitious, particularly when a virulent South African Covid-19 variant emerged.

The original plan for the tournament was for more cross-continental games but this was scaled back and the competition’s first three rounds all involve localised fixtures.

In South Africa, for example, the Sharks are scheduled to visit the Stormers on Friday night with the Bulls due to host the Lions on Saturday.

The four franchises were not due to travel to Europe until rounds four, five and six but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that that will happen.

Steve Lawrie, Edinburgh’s assistant forwards coach, says he will continue to prepare the players.

“In these times we have to be flexible,” he said. “We are preparing as well as we can and ultimately the first three games are set anyway so it is a case of seeing what happens.”

Edinburgh are also continuing to reshape their squad for next season and it was a case of one in, one out in the forward pack.

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Edinburgh Rugby sign lock Pierce Phillips from French Top 14

The giant English lock Pierce Phillips has signed from French Top 14 side Agen and will join up in the summer. Leaving Murrayfield is hooker Mike Willemse who will join London Irish for the 2021-22 English Premiership season.

Phillips, who is 6ft 8in and 18.5 stone, played previously for Jersey Reds and Worcester Warriors before moving to France in 2019. The 28-year-old will compete with Scotland internationals Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis for game time.

He was known to Edinburgh after playing against them for Agen in last season’s European Challenge Cup.

“He played in jersey first and we played him against Agen last year,” said Lawrie. “He has huge physical potential and I know the Doncaster coach [Steve Boden] who used to coach at Jersey and I spoke with him at length and he gave us a glowing reference for him and we are pleased to have him in.

“We have had some issues in that second row and with Fraser McKenzie retiring it was important we signed like for like and we have some competition there. Pierce is someone we are delighted to have and has a good attitude and is coachable and he is excited about the move and brings the experience from Agen.”

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