- The fixture list for the upcoming PRO14 Rainbow Cup has been confirmed.
- The event will run from 24 April-19 June with teams ranked in a single log.
- No teams from Europe will travel to South Africa for games because of prevailing Covid-19 conditions.
The Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers' first taste of European action has been confirmed after organisers announced the fixtures for the PRO14 Rainbow Cup.
The event will kick off on the weekend of 24 April, with three weekends of derby action to be followed by cross-hemisphere fixtures where the existing PRO14 teams will duel SA's former Super Rugby outfits for the first time.
The schedule has been designed to limit travel where possible with the opening three rounds accounting for derby fixtures across Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales.
Rounds 4 to 6 will see the four South African teams play their away games in Europe and those fixtures will be confirmed once all appropriate travel approvals have been confirmed by the relevant authorities and governments. The format means that no teams from Europe will travel to South Africa for Rainbow Cup games because of prevailing Covid-19 conditions.
"This is exciting news for the four franchises that will move into Europe and I'm sure they will be eager to get the ball rolling in terms of preparing to face a whole new set of opponents," SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said in a statement.
"We've seen the quality of rugby produced in the PRO14 this season, under difficult circumstances, and it will be great for our sides to test their mettle against some of the best club sides in the world, bringing with them new challenges.
"It's disappointing that the teams from Europe won't be able to come to South Africa yet, but there is a bigger picture in play and it will be good to get the ball rolling with the Rainbow Cup. Plans are being made for our teams' away games later in the series.
"While the excitement is palpable, it's also paramount to remember that we are living in extraordinary times and that forces outside our control can still put a damper on the plans, but we will cross that bridge should the need arise and we are working tirelessly with all relevant stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition into Europe for our teams."
The PRO14 Rainbow Cup fixtures will be a foretaste of the rivalries to come later in the year when it is expected a significant number of players from the Welsh, Irish and Scottish clubs will be part of the British & Irish Lions touring party to take on the Springboks in South Africa.
The PRO14 Rainbow Cup will feature a total of six rounds (eight games per round) and will see all teams ranked in a single log. The top two teams will then play each other in the Cup final on 19 June.
Tournament director David Jordan added: "Everyone is glad that we can now put some certainty into the rugby calendar in what has been an unpredictable period.
"Planning for a cross-hemisphere competition where the situation has been so fluid has provided many challenges, but we believe we have found a solution that is practical and safe to deliver a unique competition that supporters can get excited about.
"Throughout the PRO14 season, we have liaised with our unions and their governments to ensure we are meeting the conditions set out for elite sport to operate. We are very grateful for that support, without which a cross-border competition such as ours could not have taken place," added Jordan.
The organisers added that they were busy consulting with broadcast partners to select convenient kick-off times.
24 April 2021
Bulls v Lions
Stormers v Sharks
Ulster v Connacht
Leinster v Munster
Benetton v Glasgow Warriors
Edinburgh v Zebre Rugby Club
Ospreys v Cardiff Blues
Dragons v Scarlets
1 May 2021 (EPCR semi-final weekend)
Stormers v Bulls
Sharks v Lions
8 May 2021
Connacht v Leinster
Munster v Ulster
Zebre v Benetton
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh
Cardiff Blues v Dragons
Scarlets v Ospreys
8 May 2021
Bulls v Sharks
Lions v Stormers
15 May 2021
Munster v Connacht
Leinster v Ulster
Benetton v Zebre
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues
Dragons v Ospreys
ROUND 4: Weekend of 29 May
ROUND 5: Weekend of 5 June
ROUND 6: Weekend of 12 June
FINAL: Weekend of 19 June