British and Irish Lions to cut fixtures for next tour to South Africa in 2021
The 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa will be cut to eight matches, but future tours could be restored to 10 games.
Following the Lions' tour to New Zealand this year, there has been much talk about the make up of future tours and a shortened tour would be well received by English Premiership clubs.
Discussion between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa to reach an agreement around the next three tours are nearly finished. According to UK's The Guardian, the Lions have been pressured by the Premiership, which has the backing of the Rugby Football Union, to cut tours and reduce player workload.
The Lions played 10 matches in New Zealand this year and the first, a game against a provincial Barbarians team, was three days after they arrived. They didn't have a full squad training before leaving the UK because of players' club commitments.
In 2021 the Lions will leave on a Tuesday and not play for at least a week, The Guardian wrote.
It is yet to be decided whether to play the first match in South Africa on a Wednesday and have no midweek matches after the first test, or start on a Saturday and have a game in between the first two internationals.
One reason why it will be a shortened tour of South Africa is because, unlike New Zealand, they would struggle to field seven teams strong enough to play the Lions outside the test matches, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has had an exodus of players to Europe and Japan in recent years, which has weakened their player pool. They cut two of their Super Rugby sides this year, the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings, to try and strengthen the other teams.
But the two culled sides joined the European competition the Pro14 and both have struggled.
The 2025 tour to Australia is also likely to have eight fixtures based on strength of the Australian game, but that is still to be confirmed.
If New Zealand rugby continues the way it's going, 10 matches would be worth it in 2029. The Lions drew the test series against All Blacks 1-all this year, but lost two and drew one of their seven other tour matches.
"Each tour will be looked at on its merits," one administrator told The Guardian. "We will be keeping an open mind.
"A shorter tour means longer preparation time and clearly had the Lions been in South Africa 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 Rugby Football Union proposed the reduction to eight matches earlier this year, following feedback from its clubs, who said after this year's tour that they were not willing to move the Premiership final to accommodate future Lions tours and if the Lions wanted more preparation time, they had to cut the number of fixtures.