The tournament organisers remain hopeful that the Rainbow Cup can go ahead as planned between 24th April and 19th June despite the four South African teams involved – the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers – being told that they won’t be granted visas by the UK government. 

While Covid concerns mean that the South African franchises will stay at home and play against each other during the first three rounds of the competition, the plan is for them to then be based in Bristol and commute from there to their games in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy during rounds four to six. 

The problem appears to be with current restrictions on travel between South Africa and England, so a solution might be to move the base to somewhere else in the UK.

However, South Africa is also one of the countries on Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list – which doesn’t currently provide exemption for professional sports athletes – so that could also be a big obstacle to getting the tournament played. 

Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee told South African press yesterday that the franchises had been advised to not proceed with their visa applications. “We have little information at this stage, but it seems to be the case that the Rainbow Cup will be cancelled,” he said  

Cancelling the Rainbow Cup – which has been organised as a one-off 'bridge' tournament ahead of the four South African franchises joining the PRO14 next season – would have significant financial implications in terms of lost broadcast and advertising revenue. It will also deprive British and Irish Lions hopefuls of valuable game-time ahead of this summer's tour (currently planned for South Africa, travel restrictions permitting). So, it seems likely that the competition will go ahead in some sort of abbreviated format, even if the withdrawal of the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers heavily diminishes its appeal and credibility.