IRFU looking at logistics of summer tour to Pacific Islands
World Rugby are very keen for a three-Test series to go ahead in July
Fiji is a possible destination for an Ireland tour this summer. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The IRFU have abandoned plans to re-route some of their proposed summer tour to Australia and are instead exploring the feasibility of pressing ahead with three Tests in the Pacific Islands, whether exclusively in Fiji or with one of them in Tonga.
Fiji Rugby, and World Rugby, are very keen for a three-Test series to go ahead on July 4th, 11th and 18th, and Fiji is Covid free. However, such a tour looks logistically very problematic given the routes required to travel there for a squad of up to 50 or 60, including backroom staff, and the risks therein in avoiding coronavirus.
Furthermore, no less than Australia, any Irish squad would have to undergo a period in quarantine on arrival. And if travelling back through Dubai, for example, it is currently a requirement by law to undergo 14 days of quarantine on returning to Ireland as well.
Some clarity on whether or not Ireland will be undertaking a summer tour is likely to occur within the next week, which in turn could have repercussions for Andy Farrell’s potential involvement with the British & Irish Lions coaching ticket.
While there must also be grave doubts about that expedition also proceeding, if any summer tour is going to go ahead, it is likely to be the Lions trek to South Africa.
One option being explored, instead of the original and more traditional eight-match tour, is a four-Test series after a warm-up game against Japan in Murrayfield, so as to have the Lions squad in one, or two, bases. This would reduce costs and control the risk of Covid-19 by creating as few bubbles as possible.
Warren Gatland wants Farrell on board as his defence coach for a third Lions tour in succession and, it is understood, likewise Graham Rowntree (scrum) and Neil Jenkins (kicking), with Gregor Townsend, the Scotland head coach who was prevented by the SRU from joining the Lions in 2017, on board as attack coach. Townsend was the Lions outhalf for their 1997 Test series victory over the Springboks.
Even if the Irish tour went ahead, it is conceivable that the IRFU would sanction Farrell being part of the Lions coaching ticket. His presence might enhance the chances of more Irish players being on board, and would enable him to work closely with them as well as the other elite players in England, Wales and Scotland, while competing against South Africa, who are in Ireland’s World Cup group.
All these reasons seem more plausible in light of Ireland’s handsome win over England in their final Six Nations game, and would perhaps allow Paul O’Connell to take the reins along with Mike Catt and Simon Easterby in the Pacific Islands.
There is also, of course, a case to be made for Farrell taking charge two years out from the World Cup, as Joe Schmidt did when overseeing Ireland’s tour to the USA and Japan in 2017, albeit that was partly as a reconnaissance mission to the 2019 hosts as well.
All will have to be decided in the next week or two.