Lions announce 'historic partnership' that will make a huge difference on future tours
Sometimes in rugby, the things that make sense are the things that never happen. On this occasion, it feels positively different.
The British & Irish Lions have a new-look logo and are set to go from Warren Gatland to Andy Farrell for their head coach role. Now, they are lining up with two huge leagues to ensure the 2035 Lions, and beyond, can hit their tour running.
Rugby turned from amateur to professional in 1995 but has been somewhat of a maelstrom of clashing schedules, rivalling unions, leagues and vested interests. Meetings that took place in San Francisco (in 2017) and Paris, during the World Cup, have offered hope of a more aligned rugby calendar.
The big outcome from those World Rugby gatherings were the creation of a Nations Cup and an expanded World Cup, starting in 2027. It was also mooted that the Premiership and United Rugby Championship would be more accommodating to future Lions tours.
An announcement from the Lions today (Thursday, November 16) has now confirmed that will be the case. It will mean that players based in England and playing for the URC teams will be much better prepared for future tours.
Lions announce 'historic partnership'
In their Thursday press release, the British & Irish Lions announced 'the formation of a historic partnership with Premiership Rugby and the United Rugby Championship for the 2025 Lions Tour to Australia'. The release (in part) reads:
'The strategic partnership has been formed following a period of consultation between all parties and demonstrates a commitment from the different parts of the rugby eco-system to work together for the good of the game.
'The partnership will see the Lions working collaboratively with Premiership Rugby, the United Rugby Championship, and their clubs to enhance the tour’s offering.
'A critical aspect of the partnership is alignment on the tour schedule and this agreement will now enable all selected British & Irish Lions players to be available for all pre-tour activities. The partnership will also facilitate a collaborative approach to digital content, events and key announcements, as well as other marketing and promotional activities.'
It feels like the Lions are going to bring the URC and Premiership into the hype and marketing tent for the upcoming tours, and share the love, in return for getting players made available earlier for coaches.
Practically speaking, it would mean both leagues would wrap a couple of weeks earlier than usual. In the past, players featuring in the Premiership and URC (previously the PRO12/14 and Magners/Celtic League) knock-out stages often had ti link up with the Lions squad later than their playing colleagues.
"Everyone at Premiership Rugby understands how crucial it is to work closely with all stakeholders for the game to continue to thrive and grow," declared Simon Massie-Taylor, chief executive of the league. "Giving our players and The British & Irish Lions the best possible preparation time in history is vital for both the Lions and Premiership Rugby as we support each other on and off the pitch.
"As a league, we are also looking forward to combining with the Lions to create some new and exciting content to promote the Tour, our players and clubs. We are now looking forward to seeing as many Premiership Rugby players as possible competing for a Test jersey and hopefully experience being on a winning tour."
"The upcoming British & Irish Lions Tour will see new levels of collaboration between all of our organisations to celebrate what is a landmark moment in the rugby calendar," said Martin Anayi, chief executive at United Rugby Championship.
"It is a valuable opportunity to really grab the attention of the wider sporting audience while also bringing our most dedicated fans closer to the stories of their heroes than ever before."
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