Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen says the team will accept playing the British & Irish Lions tour in the UK, but he is aware of the economic impact that will have in South Africa.
Vermeulen was speaking in an online media conference after being named as SA Rugby’s Player of the Year for the 2020 season on Thursday.
Recent reports have suggested that the chances of the Lions tour going ahead as scheduled in South Africa are slim, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. At this stage, it appears likely that the tour could instead be held in the UK and Ireland, while Australia has also offered to host the tour and given financial assurances to underwrite it.
A combination of SA Rugby’s concerning financial position and a host of logistical challenges, including the rescheduling of mid-year tours, have meant it is highly unlikely that the Lions series can be postponed until 2022.
The Lions board is currently in discussions about the future of the tour, but nothing has been confirmed as concrete just yet. A decision is expected by the end of March.
‘It’s a difficult one,’ Vermeulen said. ‘Obviously, we would love to have the British and Irish Lions in South Africa. You only get them every 12 years. For our economy, the masses of people that could be coming into South Africa, spending some pounds in the country on the wine farms and tourism, it would be a pity if it doesn’t happen in South Africa.
‘Obviously, we need to adapt. In the past two years we have tried to adapt to all the different scenarios the pandemic has thrown at us. If it happens and we have to go play there, then we can’t really do anything about it. We haven’t played any Springbok rugby for the past couple of years. If we can play, it doesn’t matter where we can play, as long as we are playing, that would be a positive for SA Rugby.’
Vermeulen added that if the tour does happen to go ahead in the UK and Ireland, then playing in the upcoming Rainbow Cup against the PRO14 teams could be an important stepping stone in getting the Springboks prepared to face the Lions.
‘It would be really beneficial for us. Going up against guys who might be selected for the Lions series and getting used to the conditions, if it happens that we have to go and play the series in the UK. Also for SA Rugby to see how we perform in those conditions, to see who they can rely on and who they can pick for those specific conditions.’
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images