South African Rugby is about to commence its debut season in the Northern Hemisphere as the Rainbow Nations Cup is set to get underway on the 24th of April. The domestic sides wrapped up their preparation series last weekend with the Cheetahs, Stormers and Sharks winning their last games.
The first three rounds will see a series of derbies take place across SA, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Wales in a bid to curb travel as far as possible. The following three rounds will see the South African sides head North, with no teams set to tour SA shores this season. The fixtures will be confirmed once all travel and health protocols have been finalised.
All the Springbok players will be available to their respective franchises during the tournament and the Bok coaches will be hoping to use the competition as a platform to prime their players for the British and Lions Tour in the second half of the year. Squad depths were also tested during the preparation series with franchises using this as a chance to blood some youngsters ahead of the formal season.
"That is the positive side. We have six massive games in the next two and a half months. We now have to work hard and just prepare for the Emirates Lions that are coming to Loftus (in our first fixture)."
Having wiped off the cobwebs post lockdown, the players looked in much finer form during the preparation series. The brand of rugby improved drastically from the penalty ridden slog-fests we saw during the Currie Cup. Teams embraced more of an attacking outlook and fans were delighted as the try count increased. This was in stark contrast to the Currie Cup where ball in play averaged at a lowly 25 minute average per game.
With SA entering a new competition it is their chance to grab a rebrand with both hands. Whilst not moving too far away from their strengths, which have always been the forwards, fans will be hoping to see some enterprising play from them too. The Northern hemisphere boasts powerhouses such as Munster and Leinster and the standard bully approach won't cut it. Many of these teams feature a number of SA players, so they are in some cases, just as strong up front.
Whoever wins this years Rainbow Nations Cup will definitely be in a strong position to contest for the real spoils when the Pro16 rolls around in November. For now the focus is on expanding the South African brand and showing that an expanded Pro14, featuring our strongest unions is beneficial to all involved.
First up we'll see the coastal derby as the Sharks face the Stormers and Gauteng will feature the battle of the Jukskei as the Lions face off with the Blue Bulls.