SA Rugby announced the kick-off of the 2021 season on Friday with a major change being that games will now be played on a 10-day cycle, rather than each week, for each team, to manage Covid testing protocols.
The eight teams – the EP Elephants join the seven sides that competed in Super Rugby Unlocked competition and the Currie Cup from October last year – have been split into two groups and will play cross-pool matches between 27 February and 27 March, ensuring four encounters for every side.
The Elephants are coached by former Springbok boss Peter de Villiers.
The series of encounters have been specifically designed by the Rugby Department of SA Rugby and the competing unions to meet teams’ high performance needs against the landscape of the pandemic and to prepare them for the coming season.
Lying ahead for this country’s top players is the international Rainbow Cup and the Springboks’ forthcoming Test season, starting with the series against the British & Irish Lions.
Pool A will consist of the Bulls, Lions, Griquas and Cheetahs, and they will play the four sides in Pool B, namely the Sharks, Stormers, Pumas and Eastern Province Elephants.
Venues and kick-off times must still be confirmed, but the four matches in the opening round will see the Bulls host the Elephants, the Lions take on the Pumas, the Sharks squaring off against Griquas, and Stormers up against the Cheetahs.
“It’s imperative that we get the new season underway as soon as possible as we have a big year ahead, with preparing our players for the British & Irish Lions a top priority, but also providing opportunities for all teams to get match fit with an eye on entry into European competitions, and our planned local season,” said Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby.
“These matches will provide our top players with further opportunities to test themselves against the best in South Africa, while our match officials will also get some valuable game-time under the belt.”
Fixtures (home teams named first, kick-off times and venues to be confirmed):
Saturday 27 February
Bulls v Elephants, Lions v Pumas
Sunday 28 February
Sharks v Griquas, Stormers v Cheetahs
Tuesday 9 March
Cheetahs v Sharks, Griquas v Stormers
Wednesday 10 March
Pumas v Bulls, Elephants v Lions
Friday 19 March
Bulls v Stormers, Lions v Sharks
Saturday 20 March
Pumas v Cheetahs, Elephants v Lager Griquas
Saturday 27 March
Cheetahs v Elephants, Griquas v Pumas, Sharks v Bulls, Stormers v Lions