By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are excited to start their Rainbow Cup campaign, with Friday night’s trip to Ulster first on the agenda. 

 

After the Westerners’ trip to Belfast, Leinster will travel to the Sportsground on May the 8th with Connacht’s trip to Munster on May 14th completing the initial trio of interprovincial clashes. 

 

Further details of the rounds four, five, and six fixtures — with games against South African teams —  will be released in due course. 

 

Friend said the players are eager to make up for the disappointment of their Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of Leicester Tigers last time out and the mood among the playing personnel is good ahead of Friday’s interprovincial. 

 

“We’re all looking forward to getting stuck into this new Rainbow Cup, whatever it looks like,” the Australian said. 

 

“Ulster on Friday night gives us our next opportunity. The energy around the group has been good, the feeling around the group has been good. We can’t wait to get up there to Kingspan and have a shot.” 

 

Managing the game against Ulster  — who will meet Leicester in the semi finals of the Challenge Cup —  and being strong in defence and at the set-piece will be key to the outcome, Friend believes. 

 

“We know where we’re at when things are on song,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“When our defence is getting out off the line, and we’re managing the game in the right direction and our set-piece is on top. We know exactly what we can produce and the disappointing thing is that — in all little areas — we haven’t been at our best in the last few weeks. 

 

“We know what we can produce and we know when we have produced that, we have made life difficult for Ulster in the past. But when we haven’t, and that happened at the Sportsground earlier in the year, they have managed to get the win. 

 

“We have to make sure we put out our best performance and that’s our intention to go and do that.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham feels that the Rainbow Cup interprovincial contests will provide the opportunity for players to put their hand up for Irish national team selection, as well as being games that they love playing in. 

 

With a scheduled tour of the Pacific Islands this summer, Bealham — who was involved with the Irish squad during the Six Nations — described the trio of all Ireland clashes as Irish trials for players. 

 

With the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa coinciding with Ireland’s summer tour, there may be even more vacancies for players to force their way into the international fold. 

 

“Those Interpro games are where lads put their hands up for national selection,” the 29-year-old said. 

 

“They’re almost like Irish trials, aren’t they? You see the boys in their best form for these games and it has all the ingredients for Friday night to be a great game. We’re really looking forward to it.”

 

On a personal level, Bealham — who was brought in to the Irish camp as cover for their final Six Nations games, against Scotland and England — is keen to force his way back into the national team picture and add to his fourteen caps. 

 

While wearing the Irish green again is an ambition, the prop says that, first and foremost, his concentration is on performing at his best and helping the Connacht cause, starting on Friday night.

 

“Of course it’s always in the back of your mind that the Irish selectors will be watching these performances and they’ll be looking closely and analysing the game. I know it’s a cliche, but I would be worried about doing my best for the team and doing my role, and executing that as best I can. 

 

“It’s about making the lads either side of you look good, whether that’s in the scrum or in the maul and it’s about doing those selfless things that ultimately make a team better. I think when we’re performing well as a team, more boys will get selected, and yeah it’s not about me going out and scoring ten tries and saying ‘pick me’. It’s just doing my job and doing it to the best of my ability. 

 

“Those interpros, I love them, they’re very fiery and very physical.”

The current Guinness PRO14 campaign will end in March allowing South Africa’s four ‘Super’ teams and our existing clubs to finish the season with a 16-team “Rainbow Cup” competition ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour. 

After consulting with key PRO14 stakeholders, the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup was chosen as the best pathway to finish up the current campaign and introduce South Africa’s four ‘Super’ teams: the Vodacom Bulls; Emirates Lions; Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers. This decision also allows our European-based sides to earn qualification for European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) tournaments in 2021/22 in a fair and equitable manner.

Ahead of the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will provide a ground-breaking spectacle for fans who will see international star players from north and south establish new rivalries in their bid for the ultimate Test selection.

Right through until the last kick of the ball in the Rainbow Cup in June, fans will be able to watch it all unfold with our broadcast partners Premier Sports, eir Sport, S4C, TG4, DAZN and Super Sport.

How it will Work

  • The 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 campaign will finish after 16 rounds with the Conference winners facing each other in a final in late March
  • Qualification for EPCR tournaments in 2021/22 will be decided by rankings after Round 16
  • On April 17, 2021, the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will kick-off and introduce the Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers and their World Cup-winning Springboks
  • The Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will consist of a pool stage (two pools of eight teams) and a final between the two pool winners

Final Chapter of Guinness PRO14

Rounds 12 to 16 will take place from February 20 and conclude on March 20. A final will then take place at the home venue of the highest-ranked team. This abbreviated fixture list will aim to ensure home and away in-conference fixtures are completed and each team plays all of its cross-conference matches also. Further clarification will be available when fixtures are confirmed.

The scheduled dates for the conclusion of the 2020-21 Guinness PRO14 campaign are:

R12: February 20

R13: February 27

R14: March 6

R15: March 13

R16: March 20

Final: March 27

Once Round 16 has been completed, the top-ranked teams from each conference will qualify for the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup. Requirement for play-offs is under review.

Guinness PRO14 “Rainbow Cup” – Forging New Rivalries

With South Africa preparing to host their first British & Irish Lions tour since 2009, the World Cup champions will see their ‘Super’ teams – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers take on the very best that Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales have to offer.

Players aiming to make the British & Irish Lions squad will find no better trial environment to test themselves in, as they go up against the likes of Siya Kolisi, Pieter Steph du Toit (both  DHL Stormers), Duane Vermeulen (Vodacom Bulls), Elton Jantjies (Emirates Lions) and former Guinness PRO14 top-try scorer Makazole Mapimipi (Cell C Sharks).

The Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will kick off on April 17 with two pools of 8 teams 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.

Across 57 matches, the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will feature the best of the Springbok talent going toe-to-toe with some of the British & Irish Lions’ biggest names – every one of them keen to lay down a marker to their respective selectors ahead of what will prove to an historic tour.

CEO Statements from Martin Anayi and Jurie Roux

Martin Anayi, CEO, PRO14 Rugby: “At a time where our sport has faced its greatest challenge, we have promising news about an innovative solution to partner with South African rugby ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour.

“It was vital that we worked with all parties to ensure our 12 teams had a clear road towards European qualification. With a Lions tour in South Africa 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.”

Jurie Roux, CEO, SA Rugby: “The inclusion of South Africa’s ‘Super’ Teams in the Rainbow Cup is a once-in-a-generation, watershed moment for South African rugby. 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 with real excitement.”

ENDS

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