LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – The British and Irish Lions could host a test series for the first time as part of plans to rescue the 2021 tour of South Africa that is under threat by the coronavirus pandemic.
Playing the test matches in Britain and Ireland is one of three contingency plans under consideration by the Lions board in case the tour, scheduled for June 26-Aug. 7 this year, has to be called off.
Postponing the tour until 2022, or sticking with the current itinerary but playing the games without spectators are also being discussed in meetings that will take place over January and early February.
A final decision is expected to be taken in mid-February after consultation with SA Rugby, with talks ongoing between rugby officials and various government departments and broadcast partners, the Lions have said.
The current schedule sees the Lions take on Japan in a warm-up game on June 26, after which they travel to South Africa to play five provincial games followed by three tests against the Springboks, who are the reigning world champions.
The BBC reported Tuesday that a revised plan, bringing the test series to Britain and Ireland, would see the tests played at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wembley Stadium in London and Twickenham, also in London. With a vaccination program underway in Britain, there is a realistic prospect of having crowds at the games by the summer — even if spectator numbers could be limited.
Postponing the tour until 2022 would suit SA Rugby but see it clash with lucrative summer tours. Holding games in South Africa but without fans, meanwhile, would deprive the Lions of their travelling contingent of fans — a strong part of the team’s brand — but ensure broadcast money and preserve the Lions’ touring tradition.
The Lions are made up of players from the national teams of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and they tour either Australia, South Africa or New Zealand every four years.