Rainbow Cup is critical for rugby industry

The PRO14 Rainbow Cup is a window to South African rugby’s future. It’s critical for the industry that this opportunity remains open for action, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Politics and sport don’t mix, but they often do. Yet, never before has the livelihood of the game rested so considerably in the hands of government decision-makers.

In the climate of Covid-19, health and safety regulations have meant even the best-laid plans can be scuppered at the last hurdle.

This, once again, has been brought sharply into focus with the doubts cast over the necessary approval for South Africa’s leading franchises to embark on the away leg of the Rainbow Cup.

Just last week the South African teams were continuing with visa application processing only for the goalposts to be shifted once again when it became apparent that the UK government had not provided the necessary approvals for the franchises to be based on their shores for such an extended period.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has emphasised that all is not lost just yet, with hopes remaining for some kind of ‘elite sports team’ dispensation, but the frustration is palpable.

‘At the moment, the decision is really outside rugby’s ambit,’ he commented. ‘It is at government level, as there is currently a travel ban on South Africans entering the UK. They have said they are monitoring the situation here.’

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As the wait continues, so planning and preparation must as well.

Yet, for example, the Vodacom Bulls must begrudgingly realise that their strategies and gameplans to ensure battle readiness for a scheduled clash with Irish powerhouse Leinster may well be consigned to the scrapheap due to decisions over which they have no control.

Such a consequence pales in comparison to the bigger picture, though.

A Rainbow Cup cancellation would be another hammer blow to the industry, franchises, broadcasters, key stakeholders and, of course, in the context of preparing the leading SA players for the British & Irish Lions series.

It was believed that members of the Springbok management were in line to travel with the South African teams to the originally planned base in Bristol, allowing for plenty of ‘national’ preparation to intensify behind the scenes.

Should the Rainbow Cup fall victim to the perils of the pandemic, a SA Rugby industry that’s been very much in recovery mode will face yet another financial fallout, while leaving little option but for some type of local series to be rolled out.

And while you can only commend the adaptability, creative thinking and bargaining balancing act that have been conducted by rugby administrators during these extraordinary times, so much was riding on this Rainbow Cup.

Long story short: the industry simply and desperately needs another win as the Lions series looms.

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Craig Lewis