Thursday 19 October 2017

English Rugby chief executive calls for Lions tours to be shortened

Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive looks on during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on December 1, 2016 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive looks on during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on December 1, 2016 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie has called for future Lions tours to be shortened by reducing the number of games on tour from 10 to eight.

The British and Irish Lions will kick off their 2017 tour of New Zealand when they take on the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei on June 3, the first of 10 games on tour which will include seven warm up games against all five of New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises as well as the Māori All Blacks.

The 2009 Lions tour of South Africa and the victorious 2013 tour of Australia also operated under a 10 game schedule, but Ritchie feels that by cutting two of the tour games the Lions would have more time to prepare and recuperate.

"I think it should be shortened from 10 games to eight," Ritchie told BBC Radio 5 live on Friday.

"It would have a helpful impact on preparation time, not a hindrance.

"On the current schedule for example, we are arriving [in New Zealand] and playing a game within three or four days.

"So if you could say we don't need to have that fixture anymore, it would give extra preparation time in the country, and that is a positive.

"There is also a game that historically has been played in between the Test matches, which also causes certain problems, so I think reducing to eight is a sensible situation."

Two-time Lion and Wales international Jamie Roberts previously contested calls to reduce the number of games on tour insisting that the 10 game tour helps maintain the aura and the ethos around the Lions, and that the warm-up games are a huge part of the tour.

"Player welfare is a huge issue in the game at the moment and it's a very hot topic but I think as a player the scheduling goes a bit above your head," Roberts told the BBC last August.

"All I can say on the two tours I've been on is that those provincial games are a huge part of the tour. Lions tours will be remembered by who won the Test matches but those midweek games, those Saturday games, were some of the most fulfilling experiences as a player.

"The Lions have to have that element of touring, that element of something old school to it in having a Saturday team and a Wednesday team.

"10 games has worked the last two tours I've been on."

Ritchie contests Roberts' point and insists that the Lions can still maintain their aura without playing 10 games.

"I think you have to make sure you are still competitive, and that is undoubtedly the balance if you reduce it too much," Ritchie added.

"What the 10 to eight reduction does provide is an ability for greater preparation and greater rest.

"If you get an extra week's worth of preparation, plus a bit of time off in between [the Tests], those are factors that need to be considered as positives in the schedule, as well as keeping it competitive which is what we want to do."

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