VIDEO: SA teams to make Italy their 'home'
South African teams will play the next two rounds of their United Rugby Championship campaigns from a ‘neutral base’ in Italy.
The opening four weeks of the URC has the SA teams at various venues in Italy, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
The next two matches are meant to be home games for the SA sides, but they will now be played in Italy.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen told @rugby365com that they will return home after their Round Four match against Ulster at the Ravenhill Stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday.
“We are going to Italy for our next two games,” he said of the encounters with Cardiff (November 28) and Munster (December 4).
Those two games were originally scheduled for Ellis Park in Johannesburg, but will now take place at a venue in Italy.
They then face Leinster at the RDS Arena on January 7.
“Hopefully we can spend the rest of the competition at home,” the coach said.
The same applies to the other SA franchises.
The Stormers face Zebre, the Sharks are up against Scarlets and the Bulls tackle Munster on November 27.
On December 3 the Bulls face Scarlets, the Sharks are up against Zebre and the Stormers tackle Cardiff.
Those matches are also going to be moved from their original South African venues to Italy.
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Van Rooyen said they are planning to give the players a week to week-and-a-half off for some R&R after this coming week’s outing in Ireland.
“We then have three weeks before we return to Italy,” he said of a plan that has since been confirmed by URC chief executive Martin Anayi.
He said the time before they return to Europe will be used as a “mini pre-season”.
The Lions are not looking at warm-up games before their second trip to Europe and will rather rely on internal hit-outs to sharpen up the players.
The decision to move the SA teams to Italy was done because South Africa was still on the ‘red list’ of travellers to the United Kingdom.
Despite South Africa being removed from the UK’s red flag list for travel this past week, it came too late to change the roster back to its original format.
URC Chief Executive Martin Anayi confirmed the Italian ‘base’ for SA teams was a “contingency plan” that was activated before last week’s change by the UK.
“It’s great that they’re off the red list and that is likely to allow us to go to South Africa in the second half of the season  and we’ll keep the games where they’re going to be in Europe for rounds six and seven,” Anayi said.