The Lions’ summer tour to South Africa is now likely to take place as originally scheduled after Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney insisted discussions with the hosts are at an advanced stage. *Jason Leonard has also confirmed that they are aiming to stage it in South Africa as planned.
Sweeney revealed that the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK appears increasingly unviable.
“We’re running out of time for a UK option, frankly. The days are ticking by,” Sweeney said.
“The preferred position has always been to go to South Africa and play in South Africa, either with crowds or behind closed doors.
“We’re in a critical dialogue to confirm what they’re capable of doing around the Lions going to South Africa.”
The Lions board turned down an offer from Australia to stage the tour earlier this month.
Sweeney added: “The Lions board has been meeting pretty much weekly for some time now.
“It’s not completely finalised yet. There was a possible Australian option which has gone away.”
Sweeney indicated that if South Africa are unable to host the Lions tour then it will be cancelled.
The originally proposed fixtures are as follows:
SAT 3 July: British & Irish Lions v DHL Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
WED 7 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa Invitational – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
SAT 10 July: British & Irish Lions v Cell C Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
WED 14 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
SAT 17 July: British & Irish Lions v Vodacom Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SAT 24 July (1st Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
SAT 31 July (2nd Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
SAT 7 August (3rd Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Lions chairman Jason Leonard said in a statement:
“After reviewing information relating to the 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.
“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour.
“SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”
There is still uncertainty about whether crowds will be permitted to attend matches.
President of SA Rugby Mark Alexander said: “We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour.
“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.
“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations.
“But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”