George Byron Deputy sports editor & rugby writer
Boan Venter of the Cheetahs during the Currie Cup match against the Sharks at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Sunday. Picture: FRIKKIE KAPP/GALLO IMAGES
Boan Venter of the Cheetahs during the Currie Cup match against the Sharks at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Sunday. Picture: FRIKKIE KAPP/GALLO IMAGES

Even though they had been expecting the bad news, it was still like a punch to the gut when the Cheetahs heard they would not be playing in the Rainbow Cup, coach Hawies Fourie says.

While the Cheetahs are seeking new international competitions to play in, the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers will now join the 12 Europe-based PRO14 teams from next April in an expanded competition.

“We have learnt to live with it, but I think in all of our hearts we  would have wanted to be a part of that competition. But it’s not destined for us and we have made peace with the matter and have moved on,” Fourie said. 

Despite being rejected from the PRO14, the Cheetahs kept their hopes of securing a berth in the Currie Cup semifinals with a 37-10 win over the Sharks on Sunday.

A philosophical Fourie said it wouldn’t do any good to dwell on his team’s rejection. “It has been a heavy blow to our union and we have lost many players because of the decision to exclude the Cheetahs. But we will build again from where we are now.”

Each SA team will make a three-match tour to Europe in the Rainbow Cup, while all 12 Guinness PRO14 clubs will play in SA. The Rainbow Cup will kick off on April 17 and conclude with a final on 19 June.

“The inclusion of SA’s Super Rugby Teams in the Rainbow Cup is a step in a new direction for us,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said. “After so much turmoil and uncertainty in 2020 the prospect of a return to top-flight international domestic competition is one to which we all can all look forward.”

Discussions regarding a long-term partnership were continuing and an update would be provided at the appropriate time, he said.

Rassie Erasmus, SA’s director of rugby, welcomed the new competition.

“The timing of the Rainbow Cup is perfect,” he said. “It will finally get our Super teams back into international competition after a year’s absence and comes at the ideal time as preparation for the tour by the British and Irish Lions.

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

The 16 teams will be divided into two pools of eight, 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 and the sides that finish top of their pools will face off in a final on June 19.

“Having coached in Ireland with Munster, I know what our players can expect, and it will be very different from Super Rugby,” Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said.

“The rugby is unbelievably tough and will ask different questions of our players. It will be a highly competitive competition and a real learning curve for our coaches and players.”

PRO14 Rugby CEO Martin Anayi said: “With a British and Irish Lions tour to come it is hard to think of anything better to whet the appetite than the best players from the Celtic regions competing against World Cup-winning Springboks in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup.”

The Rainbow Cup had been chosen after lengthy consultation as the best pathway to introduce SA’s four major teams to northern hemisphere rugby, he said.

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