First Welsh derbies of the season set to be played without Welsh players due to match issues
The four Welsh regions are expected to do without their Welsh stars for the season opener derbies of the new United Rugby Championship.
No games have yet been published for the intercontinental tournament which will feature 16 teams with the introduction of the four South African Super Rugby teams.
But from what I understand, the fifth round of matches for the weekend of October 23 will consist of derbies.
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The complication is that Wales open their fall international series on October 30 by facing New Zealand at the Principality Stadium.
Under the agreement between the WRU and the Regions, Wales have access to home players for a 13-day training camp before the start of each test campaign.
So that means the fall squad members won’t be available for the October 22-24 derbies unless national coach Wayne Pivac releases them to get some playing time before facing off. the All Blacks.
Regional fans are unlikely to like this, with the Welsh derbies being a highly anticipated fixture on the calendar.
Ireland and Scotland will also play out-of-window tests on October 30, with the Irish heading to Paradise, Nevada to face the United States and the Scots welcoming Tonga to Murrayfield on the same day.
It is doubtful that many of their international players will be available to take part in the previous week’s derbies, especially the Irish as they have to travel to the United States.
There is also a round of URC matches on the weekend of October 29-31. It is clear that most players from international teams will not be available for these matches.
A somewhat puzzling oddity of the match list is that even though there are URC matches on the last two weekends of October – when teams will be affected by international calls – there are no games that are the most important. November 26-28 when test players will be available for their national teams again.
As for the South African provinces, it is unclear whether they will have access to their Springbok players during this time.
The world champions end their rugby championship campaign on October 2 against New Zealand.
They then begin their autumn tour of Europe by facing Wales at the Principality Stadium on November 6.
It remains to be seen whether the Boks stars will perform for their franchises in the weeks to come, especially with Covid’s travel rules and isolation periods to consider.
The four South African teams – the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions – are expected to start their URC campaign with a four-game away block.
They will begin the weekend of September 24-26 with meetings in Ireland or Italy.
They start there because South Africa is on the UK’s Covid Red Travel List, which means visitors to that country must observe a ten-day isolation period upon arrival.
There are different rules for travel to Ireland and Italy, with SA teams likely to be quarantined for five days and have a negative PCR test before playing games there.
Whether they would play all of their first four games in Ireland and Italy or come to play some of them in the UK, that remains to be clarified.
Bulls coach Jake White – the man who guided the Boks to World Cup glory in 2007 – has given an indication of what lies ahead.
“What it looks like now, it could be four away games abroad and then eight home games,” he said.
The fifth weekend – October 22-24 – will feature derbies for franchises, as is the case for the 12 teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
The Welsh regions which host this round will have a number of home games in the first few weeks of the season, with no trips to South Africa anticipated.
DATES OF URC LIGHTING
Round 1: September 24-26
R2: October 1-3
R3: October 8-10
R4: October 15-17
R5: October 22-24
R6: October 29-31
R7: December 3-5
R8: December 24-26
R9: December 31 – January 1/2
R10: January 7-9
R11: January 28-30
R12: January 18-20
R13: March 4-6
R14: March 25-27
R15: April 1 to 3
R16: April 22-24
R17: April 29-31
R18: May 20-22
Quarter-finals: June 3-5
Semi-finals: June 10-12
Final: June 23-25
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