Rugby Union: British & Irish Lions tours reduced to eight matches from 2021

Paul Rees
British & Irish Lions tours reduced to eight matches from 2021

The four home unions are set to reduce the length of a Lions tour from 10 to eight matches from 2021 as part of the changes to the global calendar.

With summer tours switching from June to July from 2020, there were calls for the Lions to play only seven matches, not least from the Premiership clubs who plan to continue starting their campaigns at the beginning of September even though the club season in Europe will run to the end of June under the changes to the global calendar agreed.

The unions, who are meeting in Dublin on Tuesday, have settled on eight matches having decided that, while a reduction is not ideal for the coaches before the first Test, it will give the tourists more preparation time. The first match in New Zealand in the summer falls seven days after the league finals in the Premiership and Pro 12 and the day before the Top 14 final in Paris.

The Lions’ head coach, Warren Gatland, asked for all the players to travel out together rather than send an advance guard to prepare for the first match and the squad will arrive in New Zealand only three days before the tour opener. An eight-match tour will give the Lions 10 days to acclimatise but would mean only four games before the first Test.

The unions are in talks with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia about a new tour agreement with the current one ending after the summer trip. There will be no sharing of the profits generated by the Lions in the three countries, with the European unions throwing out a southern hemisphere proposal during the global calendar talks to pool tier-one Test match receipts.

The change in the calendar after the 2019 World Cup has prompted calls from clubs for the Six Nations to be played over five consecutive weeks, with the two fallow weekends disappearing. The Rugby Football Union has proposed a compromise of one rest week but that has been opposed by Scotland and Italy, with Wales concerned that the move, which would mean matches being played on three consecutive weekends, would have an adverse effect on the countries with much smaller playing bases than England because there would be less time for players to recover from injuries.

The Six Nations will also review the bonus points system that was tested this year. It did not appear to have much of an impact on the tournament, with only one try bonus point secured against a team that finished in the top five but the Under-20s’ and women’s competitions will be looked at as well before a decision is made on whether to retain bonus points.

The unions will also debate the new club calendar following the Premiership’s decision to stretch the English season to 12 months. The Pro 12 intends to start its campaign at the end of September and wants the group stage of the two European competitions to be played in two sets of three matches, in December and January, rather than the current system of three sets of two, with November remaining a Test month.

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