The Pro14 Rainbow Cup has had a shaky start given the news that the South African sides would not be travelling to Europe and face the best that the current Guinness Pro14 league can offer.
The elephant in the room since then has been how this cup competition would conclude. Fear not, the league organizers on cue have announced rounds four and five of this competition. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the tournament fixture.
How is the tournament format changing?
It is a fair question given that the plan was to integrate the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into the league during this cup competition. The tournament essentially now splits into two tournaments.
In the northern hemisphere’s Rainbow Cup, the 12 Pro14 teams in Europe will compete from 23 April until 19 June 2021. Each team will play a total of 5 matches and receive one bye week with the top two playing in a final.
In the southern hemisphere’s Rainbow Cup SA, each of the four teams will play each other twice, a total of six rounds to be played between 1 May and 12 June 2021. There will be one week in which each team will receive a bye week.
Where are we after two rounds of these games?
In the northern hemisphere Rainbow Cup competition, Munster Rugby and Benetton Rugby lead the way on nine points each. Dragons and Ospreys follow on six points while Leinster Rugby loom large on five points alongside Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors.
In the southern hemisphere Rainbow Cup SA competition, the Sharks have a maximum ten points followed by the Bulls on eight points. Even in these early stages, it would appear the Stormers and Lions are struggling to compete in this pool.
Rounds 4 and 5 fixtures announced
The fixture list was announced today https://www.pro14.rugby/latest/news/full-guinness-pro14-rainbow-cup-schedule-confirmed-r4-to-r6 with some interesting fixtures to look forward in the northern hemisphere Rainbow Cup competition.
Munster Rugby will face Cardiff Blues (H) and then a trip to Zebre Rugby (A). Cardiff Blues always give Munster Rugby a massively competitive game and it should be no different in round four. Zebre Rugby on a fast track in Italy should see some eye-catching action but Munster Rugby will be looking to finish strong in this competition.
Leinster Rugby without European Cup commitments will be raring to go in this competition. Glasgow Warriors away and Dragons at home and I would fear for both in these rounds. Leinster Rugby looked awesome last weekend against Connacht Rugby and the fast track conditions will look showcase their skill set and speed. Bonus point try wins would put Leinster Rugby in a top two position.
Connacht Rugby must recover quickly and prepare for Munster Rugby in round three at Thomond Park. The last two rounds of this competition sees Andy Friend’s side face Benetton Rugby (A) who are having a superb start to this competition. The fast track conditions is suiting the Italian side perfectly but should also Connacht Rugby given their exciting brand of rugby. Connacht Rugby then face bogey side Ospreys (H) in the finale.
Ulster Rugby out of all the provinces need to regroup in a hurry. The Leicester Tigers loss was a disappointment and more disappointment against Munster Rugby last week where discipline and collisions were lost early. Dan McFarland needs a result to kick start the season and a daunting trip to the RDS is not where you need to go to look for a result.
If Ulster Rugby could secure a result against Leinster Rugby, Scarlets (H) and Edinburgh Rugby (A) are games which the province could win but the performance levels are a source of concern. This blip could become a spiral in form and fortunes. This tournament needs to be the springboard for Ulster Rugby to excel once more.
With the South African part of this competition looking pretty wrapped up between the Sharks and Bulls, the rest of the games will be a barometer on how the South African players are performing ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour. Will the Lions and Stormers improve in performance? Time will tell.
The tournament has seen Benetton Rugby impress, hopefully more of the same for the rest of the competition. The Welsh and Scottish teams are well in touch in the league standings also so the organizers will hope that the sixth round has several key to decide the top two berths. Here’s hoping with this summer rugby tournament!