Suddenly a lot of grandees are coming out in support of the Lions tours continuing – and about time too. Nothing to do with last Saturday in Wellington is it?
I have expressed my concern and indeed belief that the Lions might not tour beyond 2025, but now that we have a series in New Zealand that has captured the attention of the rugby world it looks like a deal may be done after all.
However 4 years is a long time in a game that only went professional in 1995 and the current tour is only the 6th in the new era.
Steve Tew of the NZRU is certain that the Lions will be back in 2029 – but then he would say that wouldn’t he? Especially in view of the revenue that they get from a Lions tour.
John Feehan, Chief Executive of the British and Irish Lions has been extremely bullish claiming that tours are “only going to get bigger and better”. In view of the pressures on players and the new global calendar that is designed to relieve pressure, that seems optimistic. But then again he would say that wouldn’t he?
In contrast, John Spencer the current tour manager, has expressed concern that reducing the number of matches and the tour length would be ‘madness’ and risked their future.
However, the announcement that is likely to give more confidence and comfort to Lions fans comes from the RFU’s Ian Ritchie –
He confirmed the reduction in games to 8 and a shortening by a week plus the additional preparation time – all of which was discussed at the meeting in San Francisco –
“It was quite categorically agreed in San Francisco that the next 12 years would be protected [for Lions tours],” Ritchie told The Telegraph. “One of the reasons why the agreement on the calendar went to 2032 was so that there was a Lions tour to [South Africa, Australia and New Zealand].”
He said the eight-match schedule was agreed to and it could include losing the game three days into the tour.
“The eight-match schedule was also agreed by all the Sanzar companies, agreed by the northern hemisphere, the Lions board and [Premiership Rugby].
“I do not think there is anything in eight games as opposed to 10 that eradicates what the Lions is all about and I think it is perfectly tenable.”
Bearing in mind that pressure on releasing players (and required compensation) from the professional clubs will only become greater, you have to believe that Ritchie is best placed to give a considered view. Although he will not be the one who has to negotiate with the English clubs!
One of the most important aspects will depend on the Lions board negotiating a better deal from the Sanzaar unions over revenue split – this will allow clubs to be compensated for risking their assets.
In the meantime – the red army is about to descend on Auckland!