LONDON – The next British and Irish Lions tour, to South Africa in 2021, will be cut to eight matches after pressure from England’s Premiership clubs over players’ workloads, a report said on Monday.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper said future tours could revert to 10 fixtures, with the four unions who contribute Lions players keeping their options open.
The report said talks with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa about an agreement to cover the three tours in the next 12 years are nearing an end.
The Lions played 10 matches on their tour of New Zealand earlier this year, but the first was staged just three days after their arrival, with the players so jet-lagged that at least one fell asleep on the coach to the game, the newspaper report said.
One of the reasons the team have agreed to cut the number of fixtures is due to concerns that South Africa, unlike New Zealand, would struggle to field seven teams of sufficient strength outside the Tests.
The 2025 tour to Australia is also likely to be eight fixtures, but the 2029 tour of New Zealand could involve 10 matches due to the strength of the game there.
“Each tour will be looked at on its merits,” said an administrator quoted by the Guardian. “We will be keeping an open mind.
“A shorter tour means longer preparation time, and clearly had the Lions been in South Africa this year, it is unlikely that there would have been the 10 meaningful fixtures that there were in New Zealand, where the strength of the warm-up teams meant the Lions went into the Test series battle-hardened.”