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Apart from New Zealand and Australia, professional rugby remains on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic prompting questions about the fate of next year’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa. While SA Rugby and the British and Irish Lions can’t predict when fans can once again cram into stadiums, they are confident the tour will take place as planned. It might be wishful thinking, as nothing has been predictable about this virus. There remains the possibility that the Lions tour games are played in empty stadiums as happens in English Premiership football. It’s a very short tour – only 8 matches with five matches against tough opposition for the Lions to find their Test combinations followed by three Test matches. Head coach Warren Gatland has little chance to view his potential players until the start of next season. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as the pilot of a light aircraft seeking to land on a tiny strip of grass beneath a range of vast, forbidding mountains. Gatland knows what it’s like to tour South Africa with the Lions. He was Ian McGeechan’s assistant on the 2009 tour which South Africa won 2-1. He’s had a successful run as Lions head coach, winning in Australia in 2013 and drawing the series against New Zealand in 2017. The Lions need a coach who is street-smart for this tour and Gatland seems to be the best choice in these crazy times. – David O’Sullivan
From SA Rugby:
SA Rugby and the British & Irish Lions confirmed on Wednesday the 2021 tour to South Africa will go ahead as scheduled.
The eagerly awaited series visits some of the most impressive stadiums in world sport and culminates in three Test matches against the newly crowned Rugby World Cup champions, the Springboks.
The eight-game tour kicks off on Saturday 3 July 2021 when the Lions play Vodacom Super Rugby’s DHL Stormers in Cape Town.
Three weeks later the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg will host the first Test – a venue which last hosted the Springboks in 2013.
The second Test follows on Saturday 31 July at the Cape Town Stadium – the first Lions Test in the Mother City since 1997 – before the British and Irish tourists return to Gauteng for the final Test on Saturday 7 August at Emirates Airline Park – the storied venue of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, was delighted to confirm the tour dates remain unchanged.
“The whole of South Africa is looking forward to welcoming the Lions and we continue progressing our plans to provide our local supporters, as well as fans travelling from abroad, with a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Roux.
“We’ve seen with the three most recent tours, in 2009 to South Africa, 2013 to Australia and 2017 to New Zealand, that the Lions bring with them a big and passionate group of supporters.
“We have to ensure the army of red does not dwarf our sea of green and gold, while at the same time showing our guests the best South African hospitality.
“This will be the British & Irish Lions’ third tour since the game turned professional, with them winning in 1997 and us taking the spoils in 2009. On every occasion the Springboks took the field as reigning Rugby World Cup champions and the 2021 tour is already shaping up to be one for the ages.”
Ben Calveley, British & Irish Lions managing director, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar, but after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the Tour dates are as previously announced.
“An enormous amount of planning, especially from a logistical perspective, goes into putting on a Lions series, so it was crucial that a decision was agreed upon in good time.
“I am particularly pleased that we are able to provide some clarity for all those Lions supporters eager to travel to South Africa next summer.”
The British & Irish Lions have toured South Africa on 13 previous occasions, with the first Tour taking place in 1891. In that time, the Lions have won four Test series, lost eight with one drawn. Their overall record against the Springboks is played 46, won 17, lost 23 and drawn six.
Full 2021 tour schedule:
- Saturday 3 July: British & Irish Lions v DHL Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
- Wednesday 7 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘Invitational’ – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
- Saturday 10 July: British & Irish Lions v Cell C Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
- Wednesday 14 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ Team – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
- Saturday 17 July: British & Irish Lions v Vodacom Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
- Saturday 24 July (first Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
- Saturday 31 July (second Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
- Saturday 7 August (third Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
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