Dublin: 8°C Thursday 27 January 2022

This is the nightmare before Christmas that Ireland's provinces and the URC didn't need

Rugby fans will be praying for good news but the Nu variant has the potential to create a fixture crisis in the URC.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THIS WAS THE nightmare before Christmas the URC just didn’t need. No one wins here, not Munster, who will now endure seven weeks of inactivity before facing Wasps in their Champions Cup tie, certainly not the South Africans whose wait for a home fixture in this competition goes on and not the tournament organisers, who have a headache but no one offering them an aspirin to cure it.

If there is one thing this global pandemic has taught us from a sporting perspective, it is how often events make a mockery of best laid plans. What we had was a unique idea – flawed in its structure – but one that went a long way to solving the problems five countries face, namely how to get their provincial teams into a meaningful league.

That’s all well and good when the world is normal. For two years, it hasn’t been. Rugby authorities have been at the mercy of the Gods and governments. When the UK, Italy as well as most other European countries, made it clear they intended to ban travel from countries in southern Africa, it became pretty obvious, pretty quickly that games of rugby would be postponed.

So it has proved.

The implications, of course, go way beyond rugby. People’s health and well-being matters more, so it wasn’t just the right call by the URC to ban this weekend’s fixtures in South Africa; it was the only call.

The question now is when can they be rescheduled? It’s a fairly congested calendar as it is. There are gaps after New Year when the Six Nations is on but beyond that, there really is little scope for too many more cancellations.

Then there is the issue of where those matches will be played. If South Africa remains on the UK’s Red List for a lengthy period then it is hard to see any of the Celtic or Italian clubs volunteering to travel south of the equator. Previously it was suggested the four South African provinces would play their ‘home’ games in northern Italy. Will the Italian Government approve that idea now in light of this Nu variant?

More to the point, what appetite, if any, will South Africa’s coaches and players have to be locked up in hotels again? The cost of these trips is hefty enough. How long can unions afford to write out the cheques?


Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

The thing is no one can answer these questions because we are dealing with a great unknown. How long will the Nu variant last? How long will it be before the Red List is cleared? Let’s face it, there isn’t a person on the planet with the answer to that.

Rugby fans will be praying for good news because the URC has, for some time, been openly mocked as a competition. This year it has been good, the improving performances of the South African four, offering hope that in time, it could become very good. If South Africa’s sides are temporarily prevented from hosting home games, they’ll cope. But the longer this travel ban by European governments goes on, the harder it will be for them.

And for everyone. This league needs the South Africans. Already, they’ve made a difference. The last thing we need is a series of on/off fixtures, teams wondering when they will play again, stuck in a sporting purgatory.

Hopefully we’ll get a happy ending to all this. We hope rather than expect.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel