United Rugby Championship

Lions still in the dark over URC 'home' fixture plan, but focused on Ulster clash

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Sti Sithole. (Photo by Gruffydd Thomas/Huw Evans Agency/Gallo Images)
Sti Sithole. (Photo by Gruffydd Thomas/Huw Evans Agency/Gallo Images)
  • The Lions are still not sure if they'll have to fulfil their first two home fixtures in the URC in Italy instead of SA at the end of next month.
  • It's understood that the URC will keep to that contingency plan - put in place when SA was still on Britain's Covid-19 red list - due to logistical reasons.
  • But the Ellis Park-based franchise isn't too worried about things that are out of their control and are focusing on Friday's meeting with Ulster.

The Lions are still in the dark over whether they'll have to swap their first home fixture in the United Rugby Championship (URC) - on 28 November against Cardiff - for Italy.

Speculation is rife that the tournament's governing body will keep to the original contingency plan of switching the four South African franchises' home matches - round six and seven - to Europe again, necessitated by Britain's initially keeping the country on its Covid-19 red list.

It's understood that keeping to that itinerary represents the safest option of fixtures not being disrupted unduly through any virus-related changes in regulations as well as the Welsh teams not having to quarantine for stints in continental competitions.

Despite this, hope has been expressed from some quarters that SA Rugby could still convince the URC to stick to the original venues.

For now, local franchises are in the dark.

"To be honest, we don't know too much at the moment," Julian Redelinghuys, the Lions' scrum coach, said on Tuesday.

"That's why we feel it's better to just focus on this weekend's match against Ulster in Belfast. Our relevant fixture is only on November 28, so we're heavily invested in just concentrating on what we can control."

The genial former Springbok prop, who had to retire prematurely at age 28 due to a neck injury, is excited, however, over the prospect of limited crowds being approved by government for matches.

"What I will say is that we're really looking forward to playing in front of fans again and having overseas teams visiting our shores," he said.

"But whatever is thrown our way, we'll deal with it. It will be great to play in front of local crowds again."

While there are understandable fears over the travel burden for the SA teams, star Lions prop Sti Sithole noted that there is a long-term upside to the extensive time they're spending up north.

"It's definitely going to be beneficial for us in the sense that we're going to learn about European conditions far more quicker than would've been the case in normal times," said the loosehead.

"That said, we'd like to play at home, closer to our families and our fans. But you have to see the upside and in the longer term we'll definitely be better prepared when we fulfil our overseas fixtures."

The Lions name their team on Thursday and their match at the Kingspan Stadium kicks off at 20:35 (SA time).   

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Fixtures
Fri 26 Nov 21 21:35 PM (SAST)
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Results
Sat 23 Oct 21
Ospreys 18
Munster Rugby 10
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Connacht Rugby 36
Ulster Rugby 11
Sat 23 Oct 21
Cardiff Rugby 31
Dragons 29
Logs
Team
P
W
PTS
1. Leinster Rugby
5
5
24
2. Ulster Rugby
5
4
20
3. Munster Rugby
5
4
19
4. Edinburgh Rugby
5
3
18