SA’s top players set for long ‘tour’?

Should both the Rainbow Cup and British & Irish Lions series get the go-ahead in the northern hemisphere, the leading South African players could be in for a long haul away from home, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Talk has continued to build and build in recent weeks to the point that it appears more than likely that the highly anticipated tour will be held on the other side of the equator.

It’s already been reported that local franchises have been informed that moving the Lions tour to the UK and Ireland remains the most viable option available at this point.

For one, as the UK continues to roll out a widespread vaccination programme, it’s expected that all restrictions will be lifted on 21 June, including those prohibiting the attendance of sporting events.

Interestingly, though, the Times UK did report on Wednesday that the British & Irish Lions’ plans to stage a home series could hit a stumbling block after struggling to convince the government to underwrite the event.

READ: Overseas Lions tour could face setback

After all the ‘ifs and buts’, just the thought of a decision being made one way or another would be cause for celebration.

After Duane Vermeulen was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year on Thursday, there appeared to be an air of resignation when conceding that the Boks may just need to adapt and make the best of it if they have to play the tour overseas.

Yet, the overwhelming sentiment revolved around a desire to finally have some rugby for the Springboks to play after a seemingly never-ending waiting game since winning the World Cup.

Whether played here or there, the Lions series is a vital event for the SA Rugby industry that has been pushed to its financial limits in the face of the widespread impact of the pandemic.

From a player-management standpoint, though, there are plenty of logistical considerations that will present a unique challenge for South Africa’s leading players.

In mid-February, SA Rugby announced the kick-off of the 2021 season with a number of preparation fixtures focused around national planning for entry to the international Rainbow Cup and the Springboks’ forthcoming Test season, starting with the series against the British & Irish Lions.

The Rainbow Cup was scheduled to kick off on 17 April and conclude with a final on 19 June, but the fixtures have yet to be confirmed as questions have persisted around whether the tournament will be feasible in terms of travel restrictions and requirements at this time.

Should the Rainbow Cup ultimately receive the green light, one wonders if we could possibly see South Africa’s ‘big four’ franchises begin with intra-pool action on local shores before heading to a base abroad.

It would then be interesting if the top teams could get through some form of Rainbow Cup competition in the northern hemisphere, which always had the aim of getting South Africa’s Super teams back into international competition before the Lions series.

And if that series does end up taking place in the UK and Ireland, there may even be a case where selected national players from the four franchises head straight into a northern-hemisphere preparation camp.

It’s all a matter of conjecture at this point, but amid talk of a potential fourth Lions Test, and the possible need for a South Africa A team to also be part of the ‘tour’, SA’s top players could end up spending plenty of time away from home.

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Craig Lewis