Springbok sides Stormers, Sharks, Lions and Bulls were due to play teams from Wales, Ireland and Scotland for the first time in the competition.
But the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has meant the South African teams have not been allowed to travel to the northern hemisphere as planned.
The PRO14 said: “All options for the South African teams to travel to Europe safely were explored and exhausted by the league. This is due to the heightened restrictions caused by South Africa’s presence on the red list of the territories involved.”
So, what now?
The ‘northern’ Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup will still take place on the dates previously published as teams from across Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales aim to take upset eight-time title winners Leinster Rugby. The fixtures for rounds four, five and six had already been scheduled and provided to clubs, but will now have the South African teams removed and kick-off times may be modified ahead of publishing.
The ‘southern’ tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA and will include the very best of what South African club rugby has to offer; Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls, whose World Cup-winning Springboks are priming themselves for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions.
These games will be available in the UK and Ireland with PRO14 Rugby’s current TV partners and full details of this competition will be confirmed by SA Rugby shortly.
The PRO14 said: “A wide stakeholder group, led by a working group between the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby, produced a long list of various options for entry of the teams, base camps and high-standard medical protocols across the past four months to cater for different scenarios.
“In total, 12 venues across the UK, Ireland and Europe were considered as base camps for the South African teams to operate out of or to use as a quarantine destination before entering the UK and Ireland.
“SA Rugby also explored another four locations separate to this.
“Further, destinations in the Middle East were also explored as potential hosts for fixtures involving South African teams.
“This process produced project plans for each venue to include suitable training and accommodation facilities and charter travel schedules under the constant guidance of a medical management committee, consisting of the PRO14 medical consultant, tournament staff and union chief medical officers. This group tracked the status of Covid-19 in the various territories and advised on the strategic approach to governments at all times.
“Throughout this process, PRO14 Rugby has had great support of governments and health authorities in all jurisdictions.
“This decision will have no impact on the long-term partnership between PRO14 Rugby and SA Rugby and more details about those plans and league structure for the ground-breaking 2021/22 season onwards will be made public shortly.”
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said: “A staggering volume of work has been undertaken to provide a number of proposals and options to accommodate this – all as we navigated the challenges of the second and third waves of Covid-19 as well as the South African variant which constantly changed the landscape we were operating in.
“Among our unions, our own staff and SA Rugby there is no more that could have been asked in terms of designing plans that were medically sound. However, there has been no perfect solution found in time to allow for South African teams’ entry into our territories.
“Whilst the outcome is clearly different from what we had intended, our relationship and partnership with SA Rugby has been greatly strengthened and enhanced by this experience. We are looking forward to the two Rainbow Cup competitions and in due course sharing our intentions about our future partnership that will be boosted by the experiences and project-planning involved to this point ahead of the 2021/22 season.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “This is a huge disappointment, but time had simply run out.
“No stone was left unturned to try and find a solution to the challenges – including basing our teams for 10 days in locations in the Middle East or Europe.
“The pieces of the jigsaw would not fall into place in time to allow us to put those plans into action.”