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Merit alone to dictate Lions selection for first women's tour in 2027

By PA
British and Irish Lions Women’s Programme Update – The Cinema in The Power Station

The British and Irish Lions insist merit alone will dictate selection for their first women’s tour despite England’s dominance of the sport.

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The Lions will play three Tests against world champions New Zealand in September 2027 in a historic moment for the women’s game that is the outcome of an extensive feasibility study.

It is expected that five fixtures against provincial sides will form the build-up schedule, although the details of the itinerary have yet to be finalised.

Among the challenges facing the tour is England’s clear superiority over their rival home unions, a position enhanced by being the first side to adopt professionalism.

Since the Six Nations began in 2002, Ireland’s titles in 2013 and 2015 have been the only interruption to Anglo-French dominance.

The Lions’ expectation is that Ireland, Wales and Scotland will have made up some of the ground by 2027, given their own move to professionalism, while the touring environment will also see some players come to the fore.

Whatever happens between now and when the squad is chosen, chief executive Ben Calveley is adamant that only deserving players will be taken to New Zealand.

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“It’s really important to us that this is the best of the best. This has to be the best of the best. So merit-based selection, no quotas from the different countries,” Calveley said.

“We are still three-and-a-half years away so who knows what the landscape will look like in 2027.

“We’re not going to get into discussions around selection, but we do know that each of the home unions is investing into the growth of their women’s programmes. We’ve got confidence in the work they’re doing.”

Several destinations were considered for the maiden tour and while New Zealand emerged as the unanimous preference, Calveley insists the Lions women’s team are ready to forge their own path away from the tradition set by their male counterparts.

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The men’s side visit each of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia every 12 years, but fresh challenges are being sought for the Lions’ new venture.

“The Black Ferns are back-to-back world champions and such a rugby-loving nation that the level of competition for 2027 would be significant,” Calveley said.

“When we look further ahead – for us this is a long-term programme and we’ll have 2031 and 2035 tours and so on – what we won’t do is just replicate what happens in the men’s game. This is potentially very different.

“We see ourselves in the future going to lots of very, very different locations. You could see France being really interesting for a women’s Lions tour in the future, the same with North America.

“The page is blank and we could take ourselves anywhere provided that it’s right for growth of the women’s game.”

Calveley insisted an “historic milestone” in the women’s game would be commercially sustainable but the level of pay had yet to be decided.

“It’s definitely too early. It’s day one and we’ve got three-and-a-half years to go. There are a number of things we need to get right,” he said.

“We will absolutely commit to being very fair and open with the players. We will be transparent and have a progressive conversation with them and make those decisions when they time is right.”

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