- SA Rugby has confirmed a 'preparation series' for the 2021 season, with eight teams involved.
- Pool A consists of the Bulls, Lions, Griquas and Cheetahs
- Pool B features the Sharks, Stormers, Pumas and EP Elephants.
SA Rugby on Friday announced the kick-off of the 2021 season with a number of preparation fixtures for eight provincial teams.
The fixtures were announced as the national planning focuses on entry into the international Rainbow Cup and the Springboks' forthcoming Test season, starting with the series against the British & Irish Lions.
The series of encounters have been specifically designed by the Rugby Department of SA Rugby and the competing unions to meet teams' high performance needs against the landscape of the pandemic and to prepare them for the coming season.
One significant change is that teams will play on a 10-day cycle (rather than each week) to manage Covid-19 testing protocols.
The eight teams - the Eastern Province Elephants join the seven sides that competed in Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup from October last year - have been split into two groups and will play cross-pool matches between 27 February and 27 March, ensuring four encounters for every side.
Pool A will consist of the Bulls, Lions, Griquas and Cheetahs, and they will play the four sides in Pool B, namely the Sharks, Stormers, Pumas and EP Elephants.
Venues and kick-off times must still be confirmed, but the four matches in the opening round will see the Bulls host the EP Elephants, the Lions take on the Pumas, the Sharks squaring off against Griquas, and Stormers up against the Cheetahs.
"It's imperative that we get the new season underway as soon as possible as we have a big year ahead, with preparing our players for the British & Irish Lions a top priority, but also providing opportunities for all teams to get match fit with an eye on entry into European competitions, and our planned local season," SA Rugby's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said in a press statement.
"These matches will provide our top players with further opportunities to test themselves against the best in South Africa, while our match officials will also get some valuable game-time under the belt."
Preparation series fixtures (home teams named first, kick-off times and venues to be confirmed):
Saturday 27 February
Bulls v EP Elephants
Lions v Pumas
Sunday 28 February
Sharks v Griquas
Stormers v Cheetahs
Tuesday 9 March
Cheetahs v Sharks
Griquas v Stormers
Wednesday 10 March
Pumas v Bulls
EP Elephants v Lions
Friday 19 March
Bulls v Stormers
Lions v Sharks
Saturday 20 March
Pumas v Cheetahs
EP Elephants v Griquas
Saturday 27 March
Cheetahs v EP Elephants
Griquas v Pumas
Sharks v Bulls
Stormers v Lions
- Compiled by Sport24 staff