Rainbow Cup a double-edged sword for Boks ahead of Lions tour
CAPE TOWN – Feel it, it is here. No, I’m not harking back to the unforgettable 2010 Fifa World Cup, but rather the arrival of the Rainbow Cup rugby tournament.
SA Rugby announced on Wednesday that the first phase of our local franchises’ integration into the European scene is imminent, with the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers taking on 12 teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, starting next April.
The move from southern hemisphere Super Rugby to the north has been well publicised, and in terms of the overall picture, it is one that is long overdue.
So many factors are favourable for both the SA and European sides – more money for everybody, much better time-zones and TV deals, and easier travel schedules.
But now that it’s official – although a revamped PRO16 competition for the 2021/22 season will be confirmed once a few loose ends are tied up – there are a few immediate worrisome aspects of going north next year already.
The first one is to do with the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. While some schools of thought are suggesting that playing in the Rainbow Cup will help the local players and Springbok coaches become familiar with the Irish, Welsh and Scottish stars who could be part of the Lions squad, the converse is also true.
The timing is quite unfortunate. SA teams need some on-field action before Jacques Nienaber’s Springboks face the Lions, and the Rainbow Cup will serve that purpose.
But Lions coach Warren Gatland and his management and players will now also be able to run the rule over the top local players, and can thoroughly evaluate any newcomers who could be surprise inclusions in the Bok side through weekly in-depth analysis of matches.
In fact, therein lies a distinct advantage for Gatland, as the bulk of his squad is mostly likely to come from England, whose teams are not part of the Rainbow Cup.
The second concern is the competitiveness of the tournament. Not facing New Zealand teams will most definitely take some of the sharpness off the South African players. Despite the All Blacks’ implosion in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, the Kiwis still have enormous depth, and all five franchises are capable of beating the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions.
Can we say the same about the PRO14 teams? Definitely not – only Irish giants Leinster are at a similar level to the New Zealand sides, while Munster are also a top outfit.
All of this is set against the backdrop of Covid-19. The new ‘variant’ emanating from South Africa has already resulted in the UK temporarily halting all flights from Mzansi, and our positive cases tally hit a new daily record of 14 046 on Wednesday.
But the April 17 kickoff is a while away and there is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge with regards to the coronavirus, and the rugby, of course.
Let’s hope that there is a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Cup!