• SA teams set for bio-bubble experience in Bristol

    South Africa’s four franchises participating in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup are all set to be based in a bio bubble in Bristol, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    Last week it was confirmed that the Lions, Sharks, Stormers and Vodacom Bulls would make their first foray into northern-hemisphere competition when the newly created tournament kicks off on the weekend of 24 April.

    Three weekends of derby action will be followed by cross-hemisphere fixtures where the existing PRO14 teams will face SA’s ‘Super’ teams for the very first time.

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    Those fixtures will be announced once all appropriate travel approvals have been confirmed by the relevant authorities and governments, but it is understood that all four of the SA franchises will stay in England’s popular southwest city of Bristol.

    Although South African teams are accustomed to stringent Covid-19-related safety regulations and testing after an extensive domestic season recently concluded with the Preparation Series, this will be the first time they experience a true bio-bubble set-up.

    England has a number of strict restrictions related to incoming tourists, and the fact the Rainbow Cup has been able to receive the green light is a credit to the work that has gone on behind the scenes.

    It will be interesting to have the four leading South African teams based in one central location, but while they will have been opponents over the first three rounds of competition, they will effectively become allies once in England.

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    Ultimately, the Rainbow Cup is aimed at preparing South African teams for the recently confirmed British & Irish Lions series in South Africa, and they will come up against a number of players from the Welsh, Irish and Scottish clubs.

    It’s believed that members of the Springbok management may also travel with the South African teams, and it’s likely that a lot of ‘national’ preparation will intensify behind the scenes for the Lions series while the Rainbow Cup continues.

    ‘It will be a step up from domestic competition and remind our players of the different type of rugby they can expect when the Lions are here,’ South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus highlighted when the Rainbow Cup concept was first announced.

    ‘Our players will be facing many of the players that will be in Warren Gatland’s squad and it will be very interesting to see how our players adapt to the challenge.’ 

    There will be great anticipation around some of the battles that lie in store, with Currie Cup champions the Bulls, for example, set to face off against Irish powerhouse Leinster, who recently won a fourth straight PRO14 title.

    In total, the PRO14 Rainbow Cup will feature a total of six rounds (eight games per round) and all teams will be ranked on a single log.

    The top two teams will then play each other in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup Final on 19 June.

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    Craig Lewis