The British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 will be cut from 10 to eight matches.
According to the Guardian, one of the reasons is that the Lions believe South Africa would struggle to field seven teams of sufficient strength outside the three Tests due to the country’s player exodus to Europe and Japan.
The English Premiership clubs, with the support of the RFU, have also put pressure on the Lions to reduce the length of tours to ease the players’ workload and give them more preparation time before the tour. In 2017, a jet-lagged Lions team had to play a Combined New Zealand Provinces XV just three days after arriving in the country.
The Lions’ tour to Australia in 2025 could also be eight matches, with a return to 10 for New Zealand in 2029, but a decision will be made closer to the time.
‘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.’
In 2009, the Lions were pushed hard by the Free State Cheetahs (26-24) and Western Province (26-23), but the tourists thrashed the Golden Lions (74-10) and Sharks (39-3).
They also played matches against a Royal XV (37-25) and the Kings (20-8), while drawing 13-13 with the Emerging Boks.
The Springboks won the Test series 2-1.