THE Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup has now been split into two tournaments after the four South African sides were told they could not travel to Europe to fulfil fixtures.

The Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions were meant to feature in a cross-hemisphere competition which also included the 12 PRO14 teams.

However, permission to enter the UK & Ireland was not granted in time to allow the tournament to be played as originally planned.

All options for the South African teams to travel safely were explored due to the heightened restrictions caused by their presence on the United Kingdom’s red list of countries.

The new northern hemisphere competition will still take place on the dates previously published, kicking off this weekend with two Welsh derbies among the games taking place.

After Ulster host Connacht get things under way on Friday, Ospreys entertain Cardiff Blues on Saturday and Sunday sees Dragons welcome Scarlets to Rodney Parade.

The games in Europe involving the South African teams in rounds four to six have been removed from the schedule and kick-off times may be changed.

The southern hemisphere tournament will be called Rainbow Cup SA.

“A staggering volume of work has been undertaken to provide a number of proposals and options to accommodate this – all as we navigated the challenges of the second and third waves of Covid-19 as well as the South African variant which constantly changed the landscape we were operating in,” said Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby.

“Among our unions, our own staff and SA Rugby, there is no more that could have been asked in terms of designing plans that were medically sound, however, there has been no perfect solution found in time to allow for South African teams’ entry into our territories.

“Whilst the outcome is clearly different from what we had intended, our relationship and partnership with SA Rugby has been greatly strengthened and enhanced by this experience.

“We are looking forward to the two Rainbow Cup competitions and in due course sharing our intentions about our future partnership that will be boosted by the experiences and project- planning involved to this point ahead of the 2021/22 season.”

The Rainbow Cup was designed to act as a precursor to the permanent involvement of the South African sides in the PRO14 from next season.

As well as generating income, the competition was seen as a chance for South African players to test themselves against the PRO14’s best ahead of this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour.

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “This is a huge disappointment, but time had simply run out.

“No stone was left unturned to try and find a solution to the challenges – including basing our teams for 10 days in locations in the Middle East or Europe.

“But the pieces of the jigsaw would not fall into place in time to allow us to put those plans into action.”

In total, 12 venues across the UK, Ireland and Europe were considered as base camps for the South African teams to operate out of or to use as a quarantine destination before entering the UK and Ireland.

South African involvement next season will go ahead if travel restrictions allow.