Three-Test Lions tour schedule to be confirmed on Tuesday
Warren Gatland’s squad to play eight matches in total in South Africa tour
Paul O’Connell with Lions supporters during the 2009 tour of South Africa. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty
The itinerary for the proposed British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer, which is due to be confirmed on Tuesday, is expected to feature a three-Test series as originally scheduled rather than a mooted four-Test series.
In what is liable to be a slightly tougher eight-match schedule than originally planned, it is likely that the Lions will face all four Super Rugby franchises, with a game against the Lions added in to matches with the Sharks, the Bulls and the Stormers, as well as a game against the South African A side.
The Lions will be based in two bio-secure bubbles, the first in Johannesburg, which will encompass the first leg of the tour and most probably the first four games in one venue. From there, the squad will fly to Cape Town for games against the Stormers on July 17th and the first Test in Cape Town Stadium. They will then be scheduled to fly back to Johannesburg for the second and third Tests.
As things stand all matches will be played behind closed doors although given the speed of the vaccination roll out in the UK the South African Government are still hopeful of being able to accommodate visiting supporters with up to 50 per cent capacity in attendance at games.
However there have been over 1.5 million confirmed cases and over 53,000 deaths due to Covid-19 in South Africa, which is heading towards a third wave with no concrete vaccine rollout plan and some way off its target of vaccinating healthcare workers.
The so-called South African variant is already the dominant virus variant in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, which is on the UK’s “red list” of countries, from which entry to the UK is banned.
South Africa is also on the Irish Government’s Category B list, in which people returning from that country must undergo a mandatory hotel quarantine of two weeks.
A Lions squad of around 36 players is to be announced on May 6th, with Warren Gatland hoping that the bulk of them will be able to attend a 10-day training camp in Jersey from Monday, June 14th to Thursday, June 24th, from where they will fly to Edinburgh for the warm-up game against Japan.
For their part, the Springboks haven’t played a match since beating England in the World Cup final on November 2nd 2019 in Japan, but head coach Jacques Nienaber, his assistants and the rest of the management staff, met with a number of players in Johannesburg (Lions and Bulls), Durban (Sharks), Cape Town (Stormers) and Bloemfontein (Cheetahs) during a series of camps over the last week.
“I would say the big part of these assemblies was the reality check exercise, to see where we are as a team, not just the players, but also the whole management - with that steering our focus to the areas we have to improve,” Nienaber added.
“And another major objective was for the players to have a clear understanding of exactly what is required of them to be considered for Springbok section.”
To that end, online sessions with players based in Ireland have already been completed, while those in Japan will meet Nienaber and his fellow coaches online on Thursday, before the players based in England and France do so next week.
The four South African sides will kick-off three consecutive weekends of ‘derbies’ in the Rainbow Cup with a coastal derby between the Stormers and Sharks in Cape Town this Friday, before the Bulls and Lions meet the next day.
The South African sides are due to travel to the northern hemisphere for matches from rounds four to six before the mooted final on the weekend of June 19th, but it remains to be seen if they will receive the required approvals from the respective governments and health authorities for all four squads to be based anywhere in the UK and Ireland.
British & Irish Lions 2021 tour schedule
First four matches:
Saturday, July 3rd; Wednesday, July 7th; Saturday, July 10th; Wednesday, July 14th. (All in Johannesburg).
Saturday, July 17th British & Irish Lions v Stormers, Cape Town.
Saturday, July 24th First Test: Springboks v British & Irish Lions, Cape Town.
Saturday, July 31st Second Test: Springboks v British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg.
Saturday, August 7th Third Test: Springboks v British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg