Cheetahs chair warns against ‘tough’ Rainbow Cup derbies

Free State Cheetahs chairman Ryno Opperman says the upcoming domestic Rainbow Cup could have an adverse effect on the Springboks’ hopes in the British & Irish Lions series.

SA Rugby last week confirmed that – with no formal approvals in place to allow the South African teams to enter the UK and Ireland for their PRO14 Rainbow Cup fixtures – the competition will operate as dual tournaments with no cross-hemisphere fixtures.

The ‘southern’ tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA and contested by the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions.  This coming weekend’s opening match is a coastal clash between the Stormers and Sharks at Cape Town Stadium (2pm), followed by the Jukskei derby between the Bulls and the Lions at Loftus Versfeld (7pm).

However, in a statement on Monday, Cheetahs boss Opperman expressed his concern over the impact the tournament could have on South African rugby in general.

‘The Cheetahs were surprised by the statement that the Rainbow Cup would take place in South Africa and especially the possible implications for South African rugby,’ Opperman said.

‘The Cheetahs were not aware beforehand of the details of the competition, especially not that a double-round match roster was planned for the four participating teams. This could adversely affect the rugby calendar and preparation for SA’s star tournament, the Currie Cup, as well as for the British & Irish Lions tour. The announcement also means that recent  discussions between Saru and the unions about a “Franchise Cup” tournament that would have involved eight teams, cannot progress at this stage.

‘The Cheetahs are not, however, resting on our laurels, but are already planning matches in South Africa and abroad. These plans are made in conjunction with SA Rugby, its coaching team and other role players.  After the Cheetahs were excluded from Super Rugby and PRO16, our approach has been to craft our own destiny in a constructive way.

‘The South African rugby calendar for 2021 had been planned early on for wide match experience among eight teams, conditioning, preparation and utilising the best available talent for our own pre-eminent Currie Cup and to build the best possible Springbok team to play the British & Irish Lions. The Cheetahs remain keen and ready for games against any South  African or international team.

‘The planned double round of the Rainbow Cup almost crowds the already packed rugby calendar and provide only the four so-called “elite teams” (the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers) with match exposure and broadcast revenue. We are also concerned that these “tough” matches between the four with Currie Cup following immediately thereafter could leave Springbok players tired and bruised with the added risk of injuries.

‘In our view, this leaves Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber with less than ideal circumstances to select the strongest Springbok team against the British & Irish Lions. Given all these considerations, the Cheetahs are in discussions with Saru and key role players – in a constructive spirit and in the interests of South African rugby.’

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