Johannesburg – With Sanzar exploring the possibility of expanding the Super Rugby competition to include teams from the United States and Japan in 2016, the Golden Lions might show them the viability of such a move during their two-match tour of North America in April.
Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters said in January they would look to grow the game in areas such as the US and Asia where they believed there were massive growth opportunities.
“It is by coincidence that Sanzar want to explore that area as well, so they might be able to learn from our experience there,” Lions president Kevin de Klerk said at the launch of the tour in Johannesburg on Monday.
The Lions confirmed matches against a North American All Stars team in Irvine, California, and Vancouver, British Colombia, as part of their Lions Challenge series.
The SA outfit will play the All Stars on April 13 at California State University's Titan Stadium and a week later, on April 20, in Vancouver, in a two-match series called the Rugby Showdown.
Promotor of the 2013 Lions Challenge, Willem Strauss, was pleased to have the opportunity to take the side on a tour to North America.
“This is the first time that a fully professional rugby team from South Africa will travel to North America and it creates fantastic opportunities to grow rugby on that continent, while allowing a vast number of expats to watch world-class rugby live,” Strauss said.
He said the tour could lay the foundation for future trips by South African franchises that did not compete in the Super Rugby competition due to the new relegation format.
“It is definitely a concept that we want to take to the next level. There will always be a South African team that falls out,” he said.
“So, there will always be a niche in the market to do these type of tours and challenges.”
The North American All Stars team will be coached by US Eagles mentor Mike Tolkin in California, while Canada's national coach, Kieran Crowley, will take over in Vancouver.
The team will be made up of leading US Eagles and Canadian Test players, based in North America, as well as a number of players plying their trade in Japan and other professional leagues.
The team will be captained by US World Cup captain Todd Clever Ä who played for the Lions in the Super Rugby series in 2009 Ä
subject to a release from his Japanese club.
“We look forward to the visit of the Lions and hope that the local rugby community will go along to the game and watch a professional team in action,” said Nigel Melville, chief executive and president of rugby operations at USA Rugby.
“I know that the American players selected to play against the Lions are excited to be provided with this great opportunity to test their skills against top-class professional players.” – Sapa