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Connacht set to be the big winners as PRO14 announce dates for their rescheduled run-in

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Conor Fitzgerald, left, and Bundee Aki of Connacht

Conor Fitzgerald, left, and Bundee Aki of Connacht

SPORTSFILE

Conor Fitzgerald, left, and Bundee Aki of Connacht

All four Irish provinces look set to be included in the 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup after the Guinness PRO14 announced European qualification will be decided on the table as it stands after 13 rounds.

League officials have confirmed that the competition will resume on August 22 with two weeks of in-country derbies. The top four teams will then enter the semi-finals on September 5, with the final to be played a week later on September 12.

The venue for that final will be decided closer to the time as the tournament organisers assess the latest public health information.

With all cancelled fixtures since round 13 declared 0-0 draws and with just 10 points available from the last two fixtures, unbeaten Leinster are certain to top Conference A with Ulster on course for a semi-final spot.

Likewise, Edinburgh and Munster are in line for the play-offs from Conference B and those teams will be battling to avoid the champions in the semi-finals.

With the Champions Cup expected to expand to 24 teams on a one-off basis next season, Connacht look set to make the elite tournament based on their points total of 35 which leaves Andy Friend's men seventh on the rankings.

The Aviva Stadium will host both sets of derbies in Ireland, but with facilities elsewhere being used by public health officials the venues in Wales and Scotland have not been decided on.

"Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season," tournament director David Jordan said.

"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.

"The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense.

"Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action."

Next season's PRO14 has been given a provisional start date of October 3.

Although they hope to complete the season, the ability of the competition's two South African sides to compete remains in doubt.

“We hope to see the Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings play in the end of this season’s Guinness PRO14, but there are many factors to take into consideration before we know how it will work," SA Rugby chief Jurie Roux said in a statement.

"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.

"We have to ensure we handle the return-to-train and eventually return-to-play in the best possible way. We’ll only be able to play in local derbies, but nothing can happen before we can travel internally."

Proposed Game Rounds

Round 14: Saturday, August 22/Sunday August 23: Leinster v Munster, Aviva Stadium; Ulster v Connacht, Aviva Stadium;

Round 15: Saturday, August 29/Sunday, August 30: Munster v Connacht, Aviva Stadium; Leinster v Ulster, Aviva Stadium;

Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5

Final: Saturday, September 12

Online Editors