The 2021 Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield events will be held in a secure bio-bubble at the University of Pretoria from 4 April-24 May, organisers confirmed on Wednesday.
The Varsity Cup is set to alternate with the Varsity Shield during this 51-day period, with all 17 teams staying at the Varsity Cup Village. Teams will leave and return to the village between bubbles.
In a press statement, tournament organisers said teams will adhere to SA Rugby's Covid-19 protocols, with players and management being tested regularly. Weekly testing will also be done during the four-week period leading up to the tournaments.
"It's been a long and hard journey to this point, but we're finally going to see the best in young rugby talent again," Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi, the Varsity Cup tournament manager, said.
"We might not be able to have in-stadium attendance, but we have a feast of rugby planned on SuperSport and a couple of surprises for fans. Varsity Cup has always been about innovation, pushing the boundaries and changing lives of those who form part of it. In 2021, we're going to take this to the next level."
The nine rounds of the Varsity Cup league stage will be split into three bubbles of three rounds each. After rounds three and six, Varsity Cup teams will leave the village as Varsity Shield teams arrive, with the shield event set to take place across two bubbles.
Matches will be played at Tuks Stadium, the Tuks B-Field and at Loftus Versfeld - on Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays.
As in previous years, the top four teams on the Varsity Cup log will qualify for the semi-finals, which will be played on 21 May, followed by the final on 24 May. The top two teams on the Varsity Shield log will contest the final on 9 May.
Pay channel SuperSport will broadcast 34 of the 48 Varsity Cup matches live and - for the first time ever - all 22 Varsity Shield fixtures.
The Varsity Cup will consist of 10 teams after the Nelson Mandela University's Madibaz were promoted last year to join the other nine participants - Maties, UP Tuks, NWU Pukke, UCT, UJ, Shimlas, UWC, Wits and CUT Ixias.
The Varsity Shield will have seven teams after University Sports South Africa (USSA) nominated Durban University of Technology (DUT) to join the tournament. They will join the other six participants - CPUT, Rhodes, TUT Vikings, UFH Blues, UKZN Impi and WSU All Blacks
There will be no promotion or relegation after the 2021 season. Instead, the bottom two teams on the combined 2021-2022 Varsity Cup log will be relegated to the Varsity Shield, while the last-placed team on the combined 2021-2022 Varsity Shield log will fall out.
From the 2023 season, there will be eight teams in the Cup and eight in the Shield.
Same scoring system
Meanwhile, no changes have been made to the rules and regulations for the 2021 season. Varsity Cup teams will still be able to score a seven-point try originating from their own half, while Cup and Shield teams are allowed to replace a red-carded player with a substitute after 15 minutes.
In the Varsity Cup semi-finals and final, captains and coaches can use a white card to review a referee’s decision, with each team allowed one review per half.
The Varsity Cup's eligibility rules also remain the same, with players requiring 60 academic credits from 2020 to be able to play in 2021.
Maties are the reigning Varsity Cup champions, having beaten Tuks 34-12 in the 2019 final. The Stellenbosch students had topped the standings with five wins from five matches when the 2020 season was cancelled.