The sudden halt in the rugby calendar has served to enhance the status of the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, writes DYLAN JACK.
If fans had already been keen to see the best of the northern hemisphere take on the world champion Springboks, the fact that competitions have been suspended or cancelled worldwide should leave them salivating to witness that highly-anticipated series. While the dates for the ticket sales have been pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lions organisers have emphasised that the tour dates will remain unchanged, despite overlapping with the postponed Olympics.
‘We are determined to play our part in what will be an extraordinary summer of sport,’ Lions managing director Ben Calveley said. ‘There should not be any direct clashes with Lions matches and Olympic events given the time difference between South Africa and Tokyo, so fans should not miss out on any action.’
However, it will leave an interesting decision in the hands of former Sevens players and World Cup winners Cheslin Kolbe and Kwagga Smith, who were believed to have been interested in taking part in the Olympics with the Blitzboks. Both were part of the team that won bronze in Rio de Janeiro four years ago, but given that the Lions tour is virtually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – it only comes to South Africa once every 12 years – they will find it difficult to turn down a call from the Springboks.
As an added point of interest, the tour may prove to be the proverbial carrot to dangle in efforts to lure overseas-based South Africans back to the country. This is something that former Bok coach Jake White hinted at after his appointment as the Bulls’ new director of rugby.
‘There is a great opportunity now for players that want to return to South Africa,’ White said. ‘I think in this pandemic, a lot of players are feeling the loneliness of being so far away from their families. Maybe they are taking another look at how things work, living on the other side of the world. That gives us an opportunity to renegotiate with those players before they re-sign with other clubs overseas.’
One also has to consider that English Premiership teams have already started introducing pay cuts to survive the 2020 season. When this is combined with the potential of being involved in a historic Test series, some top players may be lured back to South Africa.
All of this will set up what is bound to be an incredible tour in 2021. In times of so much uncertainty, disappointment will hopefully turn to excitement and anticipation once the new year rolls around and the British & Irish Lions reach our shores.
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