Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA LTD
Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA LTD

Australia has offered to stage this year’s British and Irish Lions tour of SA, which is under threat because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rugby Australia (RA) chair Hamish McLennan said on Sunday.

The Lions are scheduled to play eight matches in SA, including a three-match Test series against the world champion Springboks, starting on July 3 in Cape Town.

Britain and SA are still firmly in the grip of the virus, and Lions officials are scheduled to decide in February whether to proceed with the tour or look at other options.

A SA Rugby spokesperson confirmed to Reuters they had received an offer from Australia, but said neither they or the British & Irish Lions would comment now.

Australia has been relatively successful in containing the pandemic and in November and December staged the Rugby Championship, renamed the Tri-Nations, after SA withdrew.

“I spoke to Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, a few weeks ago and offered to host the tournament here, considering how dire the Covid situation is in the UK and SA,” McLennan said. “We learnt through the Tri-Nations [that] our government can bring high-performance athletes into the country and safely quarantine them.

“Despite all the difficulties, we need to keep the world moving as best we can. So this was a lateral offer and solution to an issue those guys are facing.”

The offer was well received, McLennan said, and there has been subsequent contact between Rugby Australia and other stakeholders in the tour.

“It would actually work because there are so many UK and South African residents and expats who live out here, so we could fill stadiums,” he added. “They may choose to go somewhere else, but the offer is there.”

RA would expect to cover costs but beyond that any profits would go to SA Rugby and the Lions.

“We’re not doing this to make money,” McLennan added. RA have not yet confirmed their midyear Test series against France but McLennan said both tours could be accommodated with a little flexibility.

“We’re dead keen to have France and expect them to come, we’re really looking forward to it,” he said. “When you look at the schedules, there would be minimal overlap.”

The Lions last toured Australia in 2013, winning a thrilling Test series 2-1 in front of sell-out crowds, and are scheduled to return in 2025.

Reuters

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