PRO14 targets August 22 return with shortened season

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The PRO14 has targeted a return date of Aug. 22 with a series of local derbies as part of a shortened 2019-20 season that will shed six rounds of group play, organisers said on Thursday.

The competition, which features club sides from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and South Africa, has been cut to two final rounds of group matches, all local derby games in the respective countries, followed by semi-finals and the final on Sept. 12.

The matches that were postponed from March when the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been declared 0-0 draws, which leaves the Irish duo of Leinster and Ulster as the top two teams in Conference A, with Scottish side Edinburgh and another Irish club Munster leading in the other pool.

South Africa’s Cheetahs and Welsh club Scarlets have an outside chance of making the top two, with the former potentially creating the biggest headache for organisers with uncertainty over whether international travel will be allowed.

“We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play,” tournament director David Jordan said in a statement on Thursday.

South African Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux provided a more cautious outlook though.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is still rife in our country and the health and safety of South Africans remains the most important priority, which is why we continue to work with government and all the various stakeholders,” he said in a statement from that union.

“We’ll only be able to play in local derbies, but nothing can happen before we can travel internally.”

South Africa has eased its lockdown restrictions in recent weeks, but the staging of sports events, even without fans in the stadium, remains prohibited.