British and Irish lions are planning a tour of South Africa


Maro Itoje
British and Irish lions drew their three-test series against then-2017 New Zealand world champions

The British and Irish Lions are planning a tour of South Africa this summer after turning down unforeseen match-fixing opportunities elsewhere.

The possibility of moving the tour to Britain and Ireland or hosting it in Australia has been raised while the Covid pandemic continues to hamper sport.

However, the Lions hope to continue with the original itinerary.

“The position of the board is for the Tour to go according to plan,” Lions president Jason Leonard said.

“We recognize that significant work still needs to be done to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour.”

Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, has admitted that the original schedule could be changed, which includes five warm-up games against provincial teams, invitations and South Africa A before three series.

Tommy Bowe embarked on a 2009 Lions tour of South Africa
The Lions’ last visit to South Africa in 2009 resulted in a 2-1 defeat in the highly contested Test Series.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Ragby, if the event takes place without any supporters, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations,” he said.

It is not yet known whether, as at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, foreign fans will be banned from watching the tour.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rugby Football Union chief and Lions board member Bill Sweeney said there was an ongoing “critical dialogue” about what was possible in South Africa.

Australia made an offer to host the matches in January, emphasizing the ability to play in front of big crowds in an environment without Covid.

However that offer was rejected earlier this month, leaving Britain and Ireland or South Africa as possible destinations for 2021, with a possible delay of 12 months or a complete cancellation.

“We have run out of runways for the UK option, so the agreement in force in South Africa, if they are able, is to host the tour, and we have to go there and tour,” Sweeney told the BBC.

“A lot of work needs to be done now. The statement is just the beginning of the process. All the negotiations about the players that will be in the lineup and ensuring the safety of the players to go to South Africa. All that work needs to be done, so it’s not a small undertaking.”

Covid’s concerns have kept South Africa out of action since beating England in the Rugby World Cup final in November 2019.

Lions coach Warren Gatland should announce the lineup for the tour in early May.

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