United Rugby Championship derbies brought forward

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There will be action for South African teams in the United Rugby Championship this week, after the weekend’s games were postponed due to Covid-19. SA Rugby announced on Monday that two derbies originally scheduled for February have been brought forward and will be played in Durban and Cape Town this weekend.

The derbies were moved forward in the wake of the round six and seven matches that were postponed last week due to the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19.

As a result, the Sharks will now host the Bulls in Durban on Friday (7 pm kick-off), while the Stormers will face the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday (5 pm kick-off).

Limited spectators will be allowed at these matches as was gazetted by government in October.

“Our four teams have been hard at work ... in conjunction with the tournament organisers,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby in a statement.

“Apart from providing our teams with much-needed game time, we are also trying to open up space in the calendar for a possible rescheduling of the matches that had been postponed this weekend.”

The matches between the Stormers and Zebre, the Sharks and Scarlets, the Bulls and Munster and the Lions and Cardiff were all postponed after the United Kingdom’s decision to put South Africa back on their red list and a widespread flight ban from the country to most international destinations.

It is understood that the South African franchises and SA Rugby bent over backwards in their attempt to see that this past weekend’s round of matches could be played. That included a suggestion that the games all get played at one venue (Cape Town) on one day (Saturday), which would have left the visiting teams time to catch their chartered flight back to Europe and still make the UK’s 4 pm Sunday deadline for them to avoid having to quarantine.

ALSO READ | URC fixtures in South Africa postponed

That would have been an obvious disadvantage for the three South African franchises that would have been surrendering home ground advantage, but they were prepared to take the hit just to ensure the games get played.

But the overseas clubs stood firm and it was noted how quick the Welsh clubs in particular were to make what appeared a unilateral decision to cancel the games and leave the country.

The announcement about South Africa being put back on the red list was made late on Thursday night and early on Friday morning the two Welsh clubs that were affected, Scarlets and Cardiff, had announced on their social media posts that they were going to be on the first flights out of South Africa.

ALSO READ | Sharks eager to play in front of fans as United Rugby Championship comes to SA

If clubs do cancel matches unilaterally, without consulting with the hosting clubs or franchises and local bodies controlling rugby in the impacted nation, then they must run the risk of forfeiting log points like the Waratahs once did when they refused to honour a Super 10 fixture against Natal (Sharks) in Durban in 1994 on the grounds KZN was a safety risk.

The reality is that it won’t be Covid that the foreign players are scared of, but the thought of quarantining in a hotel, something the South African players will have to do if they are to honour their scheduled fixtures in Europe on the weekend of January 7-8.

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