Leagues put the squeeze on Lions tour
The British and Irish Lions rugby union team’s next tour, to South Africa, in 2021, looks set to be squeezed into five weeks, with England’s top-tier Premiership Rugby refusing to shorten its season.
The backers of the representative team had hoped for more preparation time after the team’s tour of New Zealand in 2017 comprised 10 games in six weeks, and kicked off just one week after the finals of the Premiership and the PRO12, now the PRO14, featuring provincial teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
However, the 2021 tour will comprise just eight matches in five weeks, and Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premiership Rugby, has said that it will not countenance a curtailed domestic season to enable longer Lions preparation.
He said yesterday: “I can’t see any way in which we would change the format of the competition. I think that is suicidal, to go in and out of different formats the same as some have suggested for World Cup [years].
McCafferty added: “After the last Lions tour, the Lions supposedly said, ‘We’ll pick a phone up’. But no-one from the Lions has ever contacted me to say, ‘OK, shall we start talking about the 2021 tour?
“A bit like World Rugby sometimes, they seem to have a disdain about talking to the club organisations. I think a lot could be improved if people actually sat down, demonstrated a basic respect for the club game and said, ‘How can we work together on this? What would it take?
“We may not get to a conclusion, but we’d certainly have a better relationship than is currently the case. I understand the Lions are going to talk to us soon, but quite when I don’t know.”
Instead of a shorter Premiership season, McCafferty has proposed that the 2021 Six Nations Championship be condensed from seven to six weeks although the organisers of that competition have been reluctant to consider such a move.