The Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers will join 12 clubs from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in the competition.

Each South African team will make a three-match tour to Europe in the Rainbow Cup, while all 12 Guinness PRO14 clubs will play in South Africa.

The Rainbow Cup will kick off on 17 April and conclude with a final on 19 June.

“The inclusion of South Africa’s ‘Super’ Teams in the Rainbow Cup is a step in a new direction for us,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby. “After so much turmoil and uncertainty in 2020, the prospect of a return to top-flight international domestic competition is one to which we all can all look forward with real excitement.”

Roux said that discussions regarding a long-term partnership remained on-going and an update would be provided at the appropriate time.

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.

Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, welcomed the new competition.

“The timing of the Rainbow Cup is perfect,” he said. “It will finally get our Super teams back into international competition after a year’s absence and comes at the ideal time as preparation for the tour by the British & Irish Lions.

“It will be a step-up from domestic competition and remind our players of the different type of rugby they can expect when the Lions are here. Our players will be facing many of the players that will be in Warren Gatland’s squad and it will be very interesting to see how our players adapt to the challenge.”

The 16 teams will be divided into two pools of eight, made up of two Irish, two South African, two Welsh, one Italian and one Scottish club. Each team will play one game against each pool opponent and the sides that finish top of their pools will face off in a final on June 19.

“Having coached in Ireland with Munster, I know what our players can expect, and it will be very different to Super Rugby,” said Jacques Nienaber, Springbok coach.

“The rugby is unbelievably tough and will ask different questions of our players. It will be a highly competitive competition and will be a real learning curve for our coaches and players.”

Martin Anayi, CEO, PRO14 Rugby, said: “With a British & Irish Lions tour to come it is hard to think of anything better to whet the appetite than the best players from the Celtic regions competing against World Cup-winning Springboks in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup.

Anayi said that the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup was chosen as the best pathway to introduce South Africa’s four major teams to northern-hemisphere rugby after lengthy consultation involving key stakeholders among PRO14 Rugby’s clubs and unions, while allowing our European-based sides to conclude the current campaign in a manner deemed fair and equitable.

The current Guinness PRO14 competition will conclude with a final on March 27.