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Munster in line for difficult trip to South Africa prior to Champions Cup

United Rugby Championship organisers are attempting to plan a schedule that will not be impacted by the Covid-19 situation.

Head coach Johann van Graan runs the rule over his squad at UL.
Head coach Johann van Graan runs the rule over his squad at UL.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

MUNSTER LOOK SET for a difficult two-match trip to South Africa in the weeks running up to the start of the Heineken Champions Cup in December.

Clubs have been sent several draft fixture lists for the new United Rugby Championship as organisers try to plan a schedule that will not be impacted by the Covid-19 situation in South Africa, whose four main franchises will be joining the original PRO12 teams to form the new competition.

The continuing difficult Covid-19 environment in South Africa, which impacted on the recent Lions tour and which also sees games continued to be played behind closed doors, is being taken into account by the organisers of the URC.

Accordingly, none of the sides from the Six Nations countries will travel to South Africa until the end of November, although clubs know the latest draft fixtures could again be altered.

It’s proposed that the four South African sides, the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions, will travel north for the opening four rounds of the competition which gets under on the final weekend of September. The four South African sides will play each other in the fifth round before the autumn internationals start.

And if the current draft of fixtures is adopted, then Leinster, who won the last four PRO14 titles, will host South Africa’s most successful Super Rugby side the Bulls on the opening weekend next month, while the Sharks, with former Munster lock Gerbrandt Grobler and ex-Irish U-20 coach Noel McNamara on board, will visit Thomond Park, with the Stormers due a week later.

Ulster will be at home to Glasgow Warriors with Connacht the only Irish side away on the opening weekend when they make the trip to Cardiff before entertaining the Bulls and Dragons.

The new competition will run for five rounds until 22-24 October and then break for four weekends for the autumn internationals.

jordan-larmour-and-james-lowe-celebrate-with-the-guinness-pro14-after-the-game Leinster's Jordan Larmour and James Lowe celebrate with the Guinness PRO14 trophy after the final earlier this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster and Cardiff will be the first teams to head to South Africa, with Johann van Graan making a trip home to the Bulls in Pretoria on the last weekend in November and then take on the Lions in Johannesburg the following week.

A week later Munster will open their Heineken Champions Cup campaign against either Castres or Wasps, leaving the Munster management with a dilemma over what sort of squad they take to South Africa. The squad will have been idle for four weeks of the autumn internationals and the matches in South Africa will be their only games before the start of the Champions Cup.

The draw has been kinder to Leinster, as things stand, as they’re poised to be at home to Ulster and Connacht before the start of Europe but later in the season Leo Cullen’s men will have a two-match trip to South Africa against the Sharks and the Stormers in the weeks leading up to the European quarter-finals.


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Connacht are also due to head to South Africa at the same time in April, taking on the Lions in Johannesburg and the Sharks in Durban, while Ulster are due to head to play the Stormers in Cape Town at the end of March and the Bulls the following week, just before 16 teams battle it out in a knockout round of the Champions Cup to determine the quarter-finalists.

The manoeuvring around the Covid-19 situation in South Africa looks set to result in their four franchises having a large number of home games in a row at the business end of the season with the Sharks at home for six of their last seven games.

The 16 teams in the new URC have been divided into four pools — Irish, Welsh, South African and Scottish/Italian — with each team playing derbies home and away in their pool and then playing the other 12 teams either home or away. Each team will have a total of nine home and nine away games before the knockout stages. The top eight teams will qualify for the quarter-finals of the inaugural URC.

The four pool winners will automatically qualify for the Champions Cup, with the remaining four teams being the next highest in the final league table.

About the author:

John Fallon

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