Lions tour set to take place as planned in South Africa

An eight-game tour is meant to see the Lions play three Tests against the Springboks, with the first and third in Johannesburg on 24 July and 7 August either side of a 31 July clash in Cape Town.

FILE: Springbok flank Schalk Burger (C) fails to catch the ball on 17 June 2009 during the second Test match against the British and Irish Lions at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: APF

LONDON - South Africa Rugby said Tuesday it was still their intention to host the British and Irish Lions as planned this year.

The coronavirus pandemic had placed a question mark over the July-August tour, which includes three Tests between the world champion Springboks and the combined side.

But a joint statement said: "The British and Irish Lions and SA Rugby confirmed on Tuesday they were aligned on delivering the Castle Lager Lions Series in South Africa in the scheduled playing window."

The spread of COVID-19 and potential issues over mass vaccination in South Africa had led to suggestions the tour might take place in Britain and Ireland instead, with Australian rugby chiefs also offering to stage the series.

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

The former England prop added: "We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 counter-measure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour.

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

It is not yet known, however, if travelling Lions fans, a key component of the vibrant atmosphere at matches and a major source of revenue for the host nation will be allowed to attend games.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander thanked the Lions by saying: "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."

He added: "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."

The Lions are scheduled to play a warm-up match against Japan in Edinburgh on 26 June.

An eight-game tour is meant to see the Lions play three Tests against the Springboks, with the first and third in Johannesburg on 24 July and 7 August either side of a 31 July clash in Cape Town.

Alexander, however, said the original tour schedule remained subject to review, with any changes communicated as soon as possible.

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