London — The British and Irish Lions tour to SA in 2021 will be cut to eight matches after pressure from England’s premiership clubs over player workloads, according to a report on Monday.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said future tours could revert to 10 fixtures, with the four unions who contribute Lions players keeping their options open.
The report said talks with New Zealand, Australia and SA about an agreement to cover the three tours in the next 12 years were nearing an end.
The Lions played 10 matches on their tour of New Zealand earlier in 2017, but the first was staged just three days after their arrival, with the players so jet-lagged that at least one fell asleep on the coach to the game, the newspaper report said.
One of the reasons for the agreement to reduce the number of fixtures is due to concerns that SA, unlike New Zealand, would struggle to field seven teams of sufficient strength outside the Tests.
The 2025 tour to Australia is also likely to be eight fixtures but the 2029 tour of New Zealand could involve 10 matches due to the strength of the game there.
"Each tour will be looked at on its merits," said an administrator quoted by The Guardian.
"Clearly, had the Lions been in SA this year, it is unlikely that there would have been the 10 meaningful fixtures that there were in New Zealand, where the strength of the warm-up teams meant the Lions went into the Test series battle-hardened."
The recent Lions tour to New Zealand ended with the Test series tied 1–1; one victory to each side and a draw in the final match. Of the other tour matches, the Lions won four, lost two and drew one.