British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa to go ahead as planned

The British and Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa this summer is set to go ahead as originally scheduled, it has been confirmed.

The coronavirus pandemic, which put paid to the originally scheduled trip a year ago, had caused contingency plans to be drawn up, including the possibility of staging the three-match Test series in the UK.

But following a succession of meetings, the Lions board has confirmed to SA Rugby its preference to stick with the initial plan of matches being hosted by South Africa during July and August.

Lions chairman Jason Leonard said in a statement: “After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board’s intended position is for the tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021.

“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour.

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“SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”

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The Lions, coached by Warren Gatland, are due to play Test matches in Johannesburg on 24 July and 7 August, either side of a game in Cape Town on 31 July.

Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney indicated earlier on Tuesday that the tour would be cancelled if South Africa were unable to host it.

Earlier this month, the Lions board had turned down an offer from Australia to stage the tour.

There is still uncertainty about whether crowds will be permitted to attend matches.

President of SA Rugby Mark Alexander said: “We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour.

“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations.

“But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”

PA

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