Cross-border rugby union league the Pro14 has awarded hosting rights for the inaugural Rainbow Cup ‘North v South’ Final to the home of Italian club Benetton Rugby, with fan attendance planned.

Treviso’s Stadio di Monigo will stage the game on June 19 after the proposal won backing from the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) and the Italian government. The stadium, which has a capacity of around 6,700, has undergone a number of developments in the past two years and the Pro14 said a maximum of 1,000 fans should be admitted under current Italian regulations.

The Pro14 in December took a further step towards having greater South African participation with the announcement of a Rainbow Cup competition to conclude its 2020-21 season. Pro14 stakeholders took the decision to end the current season early in March in an effort to allow South Africa’s four former Super Rugby teams to join its existing clubs to finish the campaign with a 16-team Rainbow Cup competition ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

However, COVID-19 has since complicated matters with the Pro14 having to scrap cross-hemisphere fixtures before announcing last month that it was exploring the feasibility of hosting a final in Europe between the top-ranked teams from the European and South African competitions.

The Pro14 said Stadio di Monigo was the “clear choice” in Italy as an existing league stadium that has tried and tested COVID-19 protocols and infrastructures in place. The Pro14 said the proximity of local airports, and the European teams’ familiarity with the site, also favoured the selection.

Martin Anayi, CEO of Pro14 Rugby, said: “In a very short space of time we have been able to find a terrific way to tie the two tournaments together as originally envisaged and provide a glimpse of the future as the top team from the existing Guinness Pro14 meets the best that South Africa has to offer.

“When the cross-hemisphere fixtures were removed from the original Rainbow Cup schedule due to travel restrictions our disappointment was matched by our clubs, their fans and our broadcasters. However, our team has worked hard to reconfigure the competition with this historic final and we can now deliver on the unique excitement that the Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup originally promised.

“Once again, we offer our thanks to everyone in Italy and the FIR involved in making this possibility a reality and we look forward to what will be a truly unique occasion in the history of our league.”

The decision means that the dual tournaments operating in Europe and South Africa will tie together to produce one winner. The Northern representative shall be the team who finishes first in the table among the 12 teams in the Pro14 Rainbow Cup, while the Southern representative shall be the side who ranks first in the Rainbow Cup SA competition.

Marzio Innocenti, FIR president, said: “To host the Rainbow Cup Final in our country is a huge recognition of the big efforts we put into restarting Italian rugby safely, and shows how Pro14 Rugby is confident in what Italian rugby is capable of achieving on and off the playing field. We have developed a sound and trusted relationship with Pro14’s governance, and it is crucial to keep on developing both the competition and Italian rugby in the years to come.”

Image: Pro14