Act One, Scene One, Take Two… In a world that has become so fluid and unpredictable, we cannot take anything for granted but one can be fairly certain that the localised form of the eagerly anticipated Rainbow Cup should finally start this week.
Munster started the overseas version of what has now become a dual competition because of Covid restrictions in grand style at the weekend, hammering an admittedly depleted PRO14 champion unit Leinster 27-3.
Damian de Allende was in outstanding form for the winners, picking up the official Man of the Match award, and thus confirming to Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber that with André Esterhuizen also boasting good form in England and Frans Steyn still playing, he doesn’t have too much to worry about when it comes to the No. 12 jersey for the forthcoming series against the British and Irish Lions.
Leinster do have an eye on a forthcoming Champions Cup semi-final so they were depleted, with just three of the players who played the recent PRO14 final against the same opponents returning for this game in the new competition.
But Munster winning so handsomely was nonetheless good for the Rainbow Cup and should make the overseas version more interesting.
Why do we care about what happens in the European edition of Rainbow Cup?
Well, apart from the fact the South African teams will be playing those teams later in the year in the PRO16, there must be just the slightest chance we could see a cross-over game, meaning a final between the South African winners and the European winners, in June.
That would depend of course on the challenges that prevented the main overseas leg scheduled for the second half of May being eased by then, but apparently it hasn’t been ruled out.
Poised for exciting kick-off
Now though what is important to South African rugby fans, players and coaches is that on Saturday we see a short, sharp and probably intense and high-quality competition kicking off with a mouth-watering double header. And at a time when there are concerns that some teams are playing each other too much, which is unavoidable at this time when there are no games against overseas team, it was great to learn that it will start with the match-up that just hasn’t happened often enough since Covid interrupted South African rugby in mid-March 2020.
In the past 13 months the Vodacom Bulls and the Sharks have met no less than five times, but the Stormers and Sharks have met just once since they played each other on the last day of the old normality last March.
There have in fact been four coastal derbies scheduled in that time, with two of them (in the league phase of the Unlocked and Currie Cup competitions) being cancelled because of Covid complications and then last week’s scheduled game to start Rainbow Cup being called off because the competition was adjusted.
As it turns out that last one was just a postponement and that will be welcomed because if there is one game we want to see and one game that will kick off Rainbow Cup SA with a bang it is the clash between Springbok captain Siya Kolisi’s old team and his new one.
Returning to their DNA
It is not just about that though. Those two teams conspired to produce a mess of a spectacle, in fact let’s call it a non-spectacle, in the one game they have played since Covid, which was the Carling Currie Cup semi-final that brought a sorry end to the Newlands era for Western Province in January.
But much has changed since then, and not just because the WP skipper, who cut a forlorn presence standing behind the posts when the Sharks scored the try that confirmed the Province fate, has changed the colour of his jersey.
That game was one where the Sharks took their contestable kicking game to the extreme just because they felt they had to against a Cape team that boasted a much stronger pack than they did.
Apart from Curwin Bosch’s long-range penalties, the Sharks’ hero was their stopping of the Stormers maul. Stopping mauls is an achievement and something to be lauded, but it is most emphatically not aesthetically pleasing for the viewer.
In the recent preparation series, Kick Off 2021, we did see signs though that while the Stormers may have become less straight-jacketed by their first phase, forward oriented approach, the Sharks are also returning to their DNA, meaning a willingness to keep ball in hand and attack with their potent set of backs.
In fact both teams appear to have moved back to their DNA, with Stormers coach John Dobson being joined last week by the WP board chairperson Ebrahim Rasool in promising fans that the region’s premier team will be returning to the attacking culture it is known for.
With the weather likely to be set fair for a 2 pm, Cape Town Stadium kick-off there is good reason to believe that Rainbow Cup SA could get off to a spectacular start. For whoever wins it will also be a meaningful start, for there are just six games in the competition, and you can’t afford to slip up.
Champions out to make statement
Later on Saturday evening we see the double champions (Unlocked and Currie Cup) start their defence of their new-found status by hosting a Lions team that always looks to play attacking rugby but which may struggle to adjust to playing the competition without their regular captain Elton Jantjies. The Springbok has gone overseas on loan.
Captain and talisman Duane Vermeulen is expected back for the Bulls after undergoing an off-season operation and the Bulls are always twice as formidable when he is in tow, so the smart money in that one will probably be on the Bulls continuing to rebuild their Loftus fortress, a process they started so impressively last year.
RAINBOW CUP SA FIXTURES
Saturday, May 1
Stormers v Sharks (Cape Town, 2 pm)
Bulls v Lions (Pretoria, 7 pm)
WEEKEND RAINBOW CUP EUROPE RESULTS
Ulster 24 – 26 Connacht
Edinburgh 24 – 18 Zebre
Benetton 46 – 19 Glasgow Warriors
Ospreys 36 – 14 Cardiff Blues
Leinster 3 – 27 Munster
Dragons 52 – 32 Scarlets