Rugby Australia have confirmed reports that the governing body has offered to host the British and Irish Lions series which was originally set to be played in South Africa this year.
The series between the Lions and Springboks is under serious threat due to the current global pandemic which has seen both South Africa and the United Kingdom brought to their knees.
The Currie Cup was played behind closed doors and this morning’s finale, which saw the Bulls score a 7-point win in extra time, lacked the atmosphere that so often characterises South Africa’s top provincial competition.
While the travelling Lions are the best team in the world at putting bums on seats, that’s not possible given the current state of South Africa, which would sorely harm the tour’s commercial benefits.
In has stepped Australia, a nation where the COVID-19 situation is, more or less, relatively under control.
According to The Times, Rugby Australia (RA) approached the RU about hosting the tour in Australia, with profits shared between the Lions and Springboks.
RA chair Hamish McLennan has confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald that talks are underway, suggesting that the move would be a win-win situation for all involved.
“What we learnt from the Tri Nations last year and the tennis that’s happening now is that Australia can successfully stage global tournaments in a COVID world,” McLennan said.
“It’s particularly tough in the UK and South Africa at the moment and I believe the more international rugby that gets played here, the better.”
RA would receive enough compensation from the tour to cover costs with the rest of the earnings split amongst the two touring sides, while local Australian teams could feature in warm-up matches, if necessary.
With the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa far from guaranteed this year, two British rugby stars have picked who could feature in a possible SANZAAR XV to play the Lions in a makeshift series.https://t.co/M8PqQZytFC
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 30, 2021
France are also set to tour Australia in July, meaning the top players in Europe would all be based in Australia for a short period of time.
“We have France scheduled to come out this year so we need to factor that in but if we can get a broader group of players competing against world-class sides, that can only be good for our players,” McLennan said.
“The more world-class rugby that’s played in Australia, the better for the code.”
Of course, should the relocation be given the go-ahead from the South African and British and Irish unions, the Australian government would also have to agree to hosting the series on their shores. That won’t necessarily be a simple decision, given the country has restricted the number of entrants into the country in recent times, with citizens and residents alike being turned away.
Speaking purely from a sporting point-of-view, Australia would benefit hugely from hosting the tour due to the extra exposure it would offer the struggling game.
It’s now up to the stakeholder unions to determine if the tour will progress as planned, or if a relocation is necessary. Give the many options on the table, however, the chances of the tour being put on ice altogether appear to be fading – which is a huge win for the tour and rugby as a whole.
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