By Maxwell Levine
After months of speculations, the British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby have confirmed that the tour to South Africa is set to take place as planned in the scheduled playing window. This comes as a huge relieve to Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby who has emphasized that the world champions Springboks must do battle with the best of the British & Irish Lions in the Test series, whether here at home or abroad.
“After reviewing information relating to various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the Board’s intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021,’ said Jason Leonard, chairman of the British & Irish Lions.
‘We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 counter-measure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.’
It was only a couple of months ago, that Australia opted to host the British & Irish Lions Series against South Africa. The other alternative was the host the tour in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Commercially, the strongest argument was flipped if there were no crowds in South Africa or Lions touring supporters to South Africa.
A Lions Tour brings greater financial benefits to any hosting country. It was projected that the Lions, as an eight-occasion rugby carnival, would bring in excess of R6 billion to the South African economy.
SA Rugby’s leadership for the past six months has explored every opportunity to ensure the world champions could host the Lions. When it seems, there was no possibility of crowds and all the talk in Britain was of crowds returning to sporting events by the end of June, a historic flip tour beckoned.
Overseas government guarantees could not be secured, while SA Rugby worked tirelessly to ensure the tour goes ahead with government guarantees and interventions.
Significantly, it will be the first time since the 2019 World Cup final that the champion Springboks will take to the field.
The tour is probably going to take place in a centralized location (bio-secure bubble) with Gauteng the most likely destination due to its world class venues.
But it can also be spread out in various stadia across the country. The ongoing preparations matches between the countries top rugby sides have forged ahead successfully.
One never knows, with the financial carrot dangling in front of the South African economy, Minister Nathi Mthethwa might just be tempted to announce that supporters will be allowed, even if its 50% in capacity.
The original schedule is as follows:
- 3 July – Stormers vs British & Irish Lions, Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium
- 7 July – South Africa Invitational vs British & Irish Lions, Gqeberha, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
- 10 July – Cell C Sharks vs British & Irish Lions, Durban, Jonsson Kings Park
- 14 July – South Africa A vs British & Irish Lions, Mbombela, Mbombela Stadium
- 17 July – Vodacom Bulls vs British & Irish Lions, Pretoria, Loftus Versfeld
- 24 July – Springboks vs British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg, FNB Stadium
- 31 July – Springboks vs British & Irish Lions, Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium
- 7 August – Springboks vs British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg, Emirates Airline Park