South African rugby fans can rest easy that the four Rainbow Cup franchises won’t merely be going through the motions in yet another tournament of local derbies when the new competition kicks off on Saturday, with the massive incentive of a place in the European Champions Cup possibly being up for grabs.
Talks are apparently underway for the winners of Rainbow Cup SA to be given a spot in the 2021/22 European Rugby Heineken Champions Cup. That prestigious and lucrative tournament has prizemoney of about one million euro for the champions – the equivalent of nearly R17.5 million, which would be a huge boost for any of South Africa’s franchises given the constrained economic outlook for rugby in this country.
The Champions Cup brings together the 20 top teams from the three major European leagues – the English Premiership, France’s Top 14 and the Celtic Pro14, in which the four South African franchises are scheduled to appear later this year.
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Conquering Europe may be as ambitious a plan as some of astronautics’ efforts to land on Mars but the rewards are great and will be worth the immense planning and effort. One of the things that will be required is larger squads and talks are already underway with SA Rugby for them to increase the 45-player limit for franchise squads.
Bulls coach Jake White is certainly in favour of further expansion into Europe.
“Hopefully something will be formalised because we want to take part in the Heineken Cup,” White said on Friday.
“There are massive incentives to play in that tournament and I remember when I coached Montpellier, the French clubs put a lot of pressure on you to qualify for that event. The importance was shown when Leinster played Munster in the Rainbow Cup last weekend and rested 13 players because they have a Champions Cup semi-final this weekend.
“Leinster have used 57 players this season in all competitions and so we’ll try and find out from SA Rugby if we can have bigger squads and more money because it’s important we get the same resources as those European clubs. If we lose players to the Springboks and get a couple of injuries, will we be strong enough to compete at three levels – Currie Cup, Pro14 and Europe?”