2021 Lions Tour may now see Springboks playing in Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London
"They'd rather have it go ahead than have it cancelled."
The British & Irish Lions may still be going on tour, this summer, and they may still be playing the Springboks, but it may not be in South Africa.
Covid-19 cases are climbing steadily in Ireland, across the UK and in South Africa, plunging the 2021 Lions Tour back into the 'Doubtful' category. Following media reports, on Sunday, of a final call being due on the tour by the end of January, Ben Calveley, managing director with the Lions, stated:
'We are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.
'To date, the Lions Board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue. It will meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data. After further consultation with SA Rugby, we will update on the outcome of these meetings in due course.'
Also up for consideration in the next of the board's planned meetings would be the concept of switching the tour around. It would see South Africa travelling to the UK and Ireland for an eight-game tour that would take in Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.
The Lions would still play Japan in a warm-up game at Murrayfield - under this alternative proposal - and possibly two more games against Select XVs in order to prepare for the challenge of facing the world champions. As reigning Guinness PRO14 champions, Leinster could certainly provide stern opposition to the Springboks in Dublin.
There would then be a three-match Test Series with games at Wembley, Twickenham and Cardiff's Principality Stadium, although one imagines the IRFU would fight their corner for the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park hosting a Test.
On House of Rugby Ireland, hosts Ian Madigan and Eimear Considine (LISTEN from 36:00 below) offered up another option that would still see the Lions touring but in a place almost free from Covid-19 cases.
The South African Rugby Union has stated that a tour that is not in their country would not be financially viable for them. A Lions tour comes once every 12 years for the southern hemisphere's three big nations and the money, sponsorship and interest generated would be huge.
Even a profit split between the home unions and SA Rugby would be a drop in the ocean for what the South Africans could earn if they could host the tour and get crowds into games. Postponing the tour to 2022 may yet be the best bet, but that would cause disruption to summer tours that year (such as Ireland's planned jaunt to New Zealand).
"Obviously the outlook at the moment isn't so great," Madigan commented. "But I think it's important to note that a lot can change in the space of two months... you could find that, come March-April time, that you'd be looking at a much different picture." The Ulster outhalf added:
"It will be interesting to see, though. Could they move it to somewhere like New Zealand, where there aren't that many (Covid) cases? Or Australia?
"It's not ideal but for South Africa and the Lions to travel there, they'd rather have it go ahead than have it cancelled. I've even seen it suggested that the Lions play France instead. I'm sure they'll find a way but the outlook isn't too hopeful at the moment."
Considine points out that the big selling point of Lions Tours, off the pitch, is the fans of four rugby nations coming together to travel under one banner and to mingle with the locals of whatever country they are touring in.
It is probably no surprise, then, to find the proposed idea of South Africa travelling to England then, and without much fans in stadiums, does not have huge backing. If the hard decision is made not to send the Lions to South Africa, postponing the tour to 2022 would be high on the agenda.
"It may be very difficult," Madigan correctly notes, "when you are working with unions who have got their own tours coming up for them. Ireland are planning to tour New Zealand, Australia is to be toured by England and South Africa by Wales. It would be very difficult for those unions to forgoe those tours when their own financial situation has been so testing over the last 12 months."
Whatever the solution is, and whenever it comes, it will not keep everyone happy.
YOU CAN WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE:
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O'Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin and Ian Keatley.