Tuesday 16 January 2018

Lions officials claim Tours could become 'dead concept'

British and Irish Lions tour manager John Spencer during a training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
British and Irish Lions tour manager John Spencer during a training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gavin Mairs

The Lions could become a "dead concept" if they are subjected to "insane" plans to reduce the number of games and length of future tours, senior officials claimed last night.

With expectation and excitement building ahead of tomorrow's first Test, leading figures have delivered a sobering verdict on the Lions' future with warnings that the entire structure could be "killed off".

Moves to reduce future tours from 10 to eight games and six to five weeks were described as "madness" by John Spencer, a Lions board member and manager of the tour in New Zealand. He warned that coaches and players would turn their backs on the Lions because of the impossibility of the task they faced and the threats to welfare.

The next three-tour cycle of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand has been agreed in principle with a minimum of eight games, and World Rugby announced a new framework to the season in March. However, negotiations between stakeholders to determine the details of the calendar from 2019 are ongoing and there is pressure from clubs, particularly in England, to shorten the length of the Lions tour to five weeks, a schedule that officials fear would make the concept untenable.

Madness "If they take a couple of matches away from us, all coaches think that is madness, bordering on insanity - voluntary insanity," Spencer said. "If we are not careful with preparation I think the Lions could be a dead concept.

"The clubs would be killing it by demanding extra things every tour - shorter tours, fewer matches, less preparation. Meanwhile, with one fewer match before the first Test, the Lions would come under incredible pressure from the host nation. It is easy to say, 'Don't play the midweek matches' but how do we prepare?

There is huge frustration in the current Lions management that they were forced to play their opening game, against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, only three days after their long-haul flight from London because of the refusal of clubs to shift their domestic finals.

The Lions are believed to have paid Premiership clubs around £470,000 in 2009 to secure agreement for the date of their final to be brought forward to allow a full week of preparation before the tour of South Africa. The request was rejected four years later by English and Welsh clubs and not raised ahead of this tour.

Senior sources in the home unions have admitted that the decision to block a plan to reduce the Six Nations from seven to six weeks - which had originally been proposed by the clubs as part of the new global calendar - has now left the Lions vulnerable in the battle to maintain the current length of tour. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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