British and Irish Lions 'face Premiership backlash' over proposed £10m fixture
Rugby union - 21 Mar 2019
The British and Irish Lions rugby union team is in talks to stage a £10-million ($13.1-million) match against a top international side at Twickenham in London ahead of the team's 2021 tour of South Africa, in a move that is facing strong opposition from clubs in English club rugby’s top-tier Premiership, the UK’s Daily Telegraph has reported.
It is understood that England’s Rugby Football Union, the national governing body for the sport and owner of Twickenham, is proposing to use money raised by the fixture to offer a seven-figure incentive to persuade Premiership Rugby, the body which oversees English rugby union’s top league, to move its annual playoff final in 2021, to give the Lions more preparation before the tour. The RFU believes it can raise up to £10 million with the staging of the match through ticket sales, sponsorship and broadcast rights.
The news comes after the schedule for the 2020 and 2021 annual Six Nations championships was released this week, confirming that it will remain a seven-week tournament. This is despite a move by Nigel Melville, the RFU’s interim chief executive, to reduce the tournament by one week to give the Lions more preparation time for the tour of South Africa.
Argentina and France are two opponents under consideration for the match, which would be the Lions’ first game in England since 1977. The last 'home' Lions fixture was against Argentina in Cardiff before the 2005 tour of New Zealand. The Lions also held discussions at a recent board meeting about the possibility of playing at France’s Stade de France stadium, if it is available.
The Lions, the combined England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales touring team, are scheduled to play their first match in South Africa just seven days after the Premiership final, but Premiership Rugby has made it clear it will not alter its calendar following an agreement reached in San Francisco in 2017 to guarantee the structure of the international season until 2032. However, clubs in the PRO14 rugby union competition, involving teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and South Africa, have already agreed to bring their final forward in a Lions tour year.
Premiership Rugby has also said its clubs will not release their players as the match would fall outside the international window agreed in San Francisco.
Mark McCafferty, the Premiership Rugby chief executive, told Telegraph Sport: “As far we are concerned we are operating within the 2017 San Francisco agreement, and we believe that and have been told that the Lions are doing so as well, so this is news to me.”
A source close to the negotiations told the Telegraph: “The unions all need money and this game could raise a lot of funds and also allow the RFU to give a cash incentive to persuade the English clubs to bring their final forward, which will give the Lions more preparation time.”
Meanwhile, Saracens, the London-based top-tier rugby club, will play their local derby with Harlequins at English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium from next season.
A decade ago, Saracens decided to stage one-off matches at Wembley, the national soccer stadium, and last year played Harlequins at the London Stadium, the former Olympic Stadium, now the home of the English Premier League’s West Ham United, where the two teams will once again play this Saturday.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, said: “We are looking forward to Tottenham’s ground becoming our home for this game for the years to come. This game should have been there if Tottenham’s ground had been available when we thought it would be. It is very exciting and it is more our area.”
In October, American football's NFL announced that it will stage two regular-season games at Tottenham's new stadium this year. Tottenham initially signed a 10-year deal with the NFL to stage at least two matches per year at their new stadium in north London from 2018 onwards. It was due to stage the Seattle Seahawks’ fixture against the Oakland Raiders in October, but delays to the venue meant that game was switched to Wembley.
Tottenham will play their first match at the new stadium on 3 April against fellow London-based Premier League club Crystal Palace, the club confirmed last weekend.