The four home unions have agreed that the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 should be reduced from 10 matches to 8. A suggestion to have just 7 fixtures was rejected.
The rationale is to give the squad more time to prepare for the tour.
In June the squad will now all fly out together rather than in two groups, so those involved in the domestic finals will join the rest of the players on the plane.
The touring party will arrive just 3 days before the first match and you have to assume that those who played the previous weekend will be given the day off.
Incidentally the Top 14 final doesn’t take place until after the first Lions fixture, so it is possible that any players based in France and involved in the final may find it tough getting into the squad.
Reducing the tour to 8 matches means that there will only be 5 non test fixtures – and only 4 before the first test – assuming the usual pattern is kept.
You have to wonder if the future of Lions tours is secure – the great crusades of the 70’s before professionalism consisted of more than 20 matches. In 1971 John Dawes team played 26 on the last successful tour to New Zealand.
Willie John’s 1974 party played 22, were undefeated and consisted of only 31 players.
Tour games have since fallen to 18, 13, 12 and in 2001 to 10.
The move to a global calendar, concerns over player burn out and welfare and the pressure from the Northern Hemisphere clubs and Unions will surely put the future of tours after 2021 in some doubt.
The Southern Hemisphere Unions will take a diametrically opposed view – the commercial benefits and boost to their economy are significant – even if it is only every 12 years.
We went on two Lions tours (as supporters, obviously) – they were brilliant experiences and it will be a great shame if the tradition of the Lions was to end. But as always money talks and the future is unlikely to be secure.
Other discussions will include several controversial items –
The unions are in talks with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia about a new tour agreement with the current one ending after the summer trip. There will be no sharing of the profits generated by the Lions in the three countries, with the European unions throwing out a southern hemisphere proposal during the global calendar talks to pool tier-one Test match receipts.
In addition the dropping of at least one rest week during the 6 Nations will be reviewed as will the bonus point inclusion – still, at least they’ve given it a fair trial!
The unions will also debate the new club calendar following the Premiership’s decision to stretch the English season to 12 months. The Pro 12 intends to start its campaign at the end of September and wants the group stage of the two European competitions to be played in two sets of three matches, in December and January, rather than the current system of three sets of two, with November remaining a Test month.
If you’ve never been on a Lions tour I’d grab a late deal for June or put your name down for South Africa – it might be your last chance and you won’t regret it.