Munster set to return to South Africa during Six Nations for rescheduled URC games

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Image credit: Sportsfile.

Ruaidhri O'Connor

AFTER their ill-fated trip threatened to derail their season, Munster have been told they will return to South Africa next month.

However, United Rugby Championship (URC) organisers say they are better prepared if the trip is affected by the pandemic this time around.

Along with Cardiff, Scarlets and Zebre, the Irish province were left stranded in the Rainbow Nation when the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to an overnight shut-down of travel from that country to Europe and Britain.

Munster managed to get home, but the vast majority of their squad was forced to miss both of their Heineken Champions Cup pool matches against Wasps and Castres. Despite the adversity, they managed to overcome the odds and win both matches.

Twelve members of the travelling party were left behind due to their testing positive for the virus and they were forced to do a mandatory quarantine when they arrived home to Ireland.

Cardiff were stuck in South Africa even longer than Munster, while Scarlets forfeited their opening European game as a result of the chaos.

The matches were due to be the first URC clashes between South African and European teams on home soil and the new dates mean they'll hold the same significance.

Munster will take on the Bulls in coach Johann van Graan's home town of Pretoria on Saturday, March 12 - the same day as England v Ireland - before facing the Lions in Johannesburg on March 19, which is the day Ireland take on Scotland in their Six Nations finale.

The clashes mean that Munster will be without their Ireland contingent for the games.

“I would like to say special thanks to the teams, broadcasters and support staff involved in rescheduling these games. These fixtures hold a huge significance in South Africa who are eagerly awaiting the first visit of URC teams to their stadiums which have not hosted international opponents since early 2020," URC chief Martin Anayi said.

“Having been on the ground alongside other members of the URC management team in December when these games were postponed, we were fully aware of the circumstances that isolation presented.

"Player welfare remains paramount to rugby’s success and after much internal consultation we believe that our clubs and players are confident that contingencies now exist that – no matter how unlikely to be needed – can expedite any future process.

“With 12 of our teams due to tour South Africa before the end of the season we know they will receive a warm welcome off the pitch. Through a sporting lens, Covid has thrown a lot at us but we’re very optimistic that the effort and co-ordination involved to get back on track should reward us with a lot of entertaining rugby and a tremendous finish to the first URC season.”

While players from all four clubs have spoken about the struggles they endured while locked in a hotel room in South Africa, it appears they'll have little choice but to return.

Last month, Munster full-back Mike Haley said the decision is out of the players' hands.

"You'd have ask my missus, she was stuck with two young kids at home," he said when asked if he'd be comfortable returning to South Africa.

"I'd say she had a tougher time than I did.

"Jeez, it's nothing for me - I can't control it, can I. It's above my pay-grade.

"It was a tough time, having your family back here, but it's done now and I just want to get a move on, get playing rugby again and then whatever happens happens. It's not for me to decide."

Rescheduled Fixtures for R6 & R7

Round 6

Friday, March 11

Cell C Sharks v Scarlets, KO 17:10 (UK) / 19:10 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, BBC Wales, Premier Sports,

Saturday, March 12

Vodacom Bulls v Munster, KO 14:05 (UK) / 16:05 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, TG4, Premier Sports,

Sunday, March 13

Emirates Lions v Cardiff Rugby, KO 14:00 (UK) / 16:00 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, S4C, Premier Sports,

DHL Stormers v Zebre Parma, KO TBC

Live on SuperSport, Mediaset, Premier Sports,

Round 7

Friday, March 18

Vodacom Bulls v Scarlets, KO 17:10 (UK) / 19:10 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, BBC Wales, Premier Sports,

Saturday, March 19

Emirates Lions v Munster, KO 12:00 (UK) / 14:00 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, RTÉ, Premier Sports,

Cell C Sharks v Zebre Parma, KO 16:30 (UK) / 18:30 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, Mediaset, Premier Sports,

Sunday, March 20

DHL Stormers v Cardiff Rugby, KO 12:00 (UK) / 14:00 (SA)

Live on SuperSport, S4C, Premier Sports,