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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Fans make 20-hour trip for double header

Brett Wilkinson Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Brett Wilkinson Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

A new era begins as Leinster play two competitive games in South Africa over the next two weekends.

The inclusion of the Toyota Cheetahs from Bloemfontein and the Southern Kings from Port Elizabeth has expanded the newly titled PRO14.

Leinster's trip to South Africa so early in the season - only two rounds have been played - has left supporters with little time to make travel arrangements.

But the trip is bound to appeal to fans in due course, especially as they can take in two matches.

The two cities where they are based are quite different. Bloemfontein, situated on the Highveld, is a university city with a population of 369,000 which is the capital of Free State.

Port Elizabeth, which hosted matches at the 2010 soccer World Cup, is situated in the Eastern Cape and is very much a tourist resort.

Barend Pieterse, who was capped for South Africa in 2007 and is now assistant coach of the Southern Kings, said fans will really enjoy visiting Port Elizabeth (known to the locals as PE).

"Port Elizabeth is an amazing place, it's by the sea, it's got terrific weather especially during the months it is winter in Europe.

"We are looking forward to supporters coming to PE, they will really enjoy it and our supporters will enjoy meeting them," he said.

The schedule, which will see Irish provinces play in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth on each trip, gives fans the opportunity to go to South Africa for over a week. Many are likely to opt to go to Cape Town and travel from there to the two venues.

The Garden Route, a 300km stretch from Cape Town to Storms River in the Eastern Cape, will prove attractive, with fans flying to the higher altitude venue in Bloemfontein. There are return flights from Dublin to Cape Town for €525, with trips taking 18-20 hours allowing for stopovers, while four-star hotels in Cape Town are available for €80-100 and less in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. Admission prices to games - which attract attendances of up to 15,000 - cost as little as €6.

Brett Wilkinson, who is from Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, played for Connacht for nine years. He said: "South African people are passionate rugby supporters and they will be a great addition to the PRO14.

"Supporters of the provinces in Ireland and the other clubs in Wales, Scotland and Italy will really enjoy their trips."

Irish Independent

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