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Burford: Women's Lions tour an opportunity to change history

By Rachael Burford
British and Irish Lions v Japan – The Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup – Murrayfield Stadium

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I’ve written before about how a women’s British and Irish Lions tour would be a great advert for the women’s game, and as we come to the end of a turbulent Lions tour, it’s time we revisited the possibility.

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Some have said that before we can even consider a women’s tour, we must look to ensure our domestic level of play is at a consistent standard throughout. Where some might see this as an obvious obstacle, I see it as a welcomed positive. I would argue that a well-planned tour could increase the standard of play across the country, leading to growth of the women’s game.

A women’s British and Irish Lions tour would present female players with a challenge like nothing else they have faced before. Suddenly, players will be placed in a different environment and standard of rugby, the competitive nature would be huge. You only have to look to the men’s tournament this year to see this. Not to mention it would also serve as a chance for players who may not usually get a development opportunity such as this. I am sure that teams who aren’t as developed as England would love the chance to be part of a team that can beat anyone on their day. Let’s not forget that rugby is a learning environment, and sometimes the best way to learn is through experience.

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If we take the Lions for what it is, a competition that sees England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales come together to create an elite team that then goes on to compete against a team within the southern hemisphere. I would argue we already have the makings of that team that would be strong enough to deliver.

The beauty of doing this for the first time is that we have a chance to do it in a way that works for everyone involved; players, fans and broadcasters. We don’t need to follow the exact shape of the men’s tournament; we can select the parts that are suited to us and introduce new aspects where necessary. In this situation hindsight is on our side, this has never been done before; so, there is no right or wrong way to move forward.

You can’t just mirror the men’s tournament and expect it to work. We need to be committed to conducting the research which has begun with Royal London, assessing the stats, and making an informed decision on the most viable option to ensure this tournament is afforded a solid chance of succeeding and lasting.

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The tour will need to be extremely well planned and shaped to the needs of the players. All elements will need to be considered, which is what I assume Royal London will be analysing in its feasibility study.

For the tour to be a true success, it is important to consider exactly what will work for the women based on their lives off the pitch. Should organisers decide to go on tour for six weeks, most players would not be able to do that. At the moment, there are only a few players who have rugby as their primary career. So, for the notion of a women’s Lions squad to become a reality, we need to consider what is best for the game, the players and the unions which are involved. These are all contributing factors to its possible success.

SPONSORSHIP
The media opportunities which would come alongside a women’s tour would also be a factor to consider. Specifically, we should be looking at how this could serve to grow the women’s game.

Something women’s players do so well, and I have seen this first-hand at training sessions, is promote the game organically via their own platforms. They make rugby look like a fun and inviting sport – from TikToks to Instagram stories. The players do it because they enjoy it. Fans can get an organic view from players, which gives followers greater insight into the game whilst building hype around it.

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Lions

A Lions fan watching on in Murrayfield /PA

For example, Jess Breach will always be all over TikTok, because it’s something she enjoys. She isn’t forced to make them, she does them for the love of it.

So, with this in mind, and with Rugby 7’s trending on Twitter during the Olympics, a women’s Lions tour would present another opportunity for players to promote themselves, the game and their individual brands.

Sponsorship and commercial opportunities will be high because these players have already built up an engaged audience. What will then follow will be the story of the Lions, told through the players. Giving those involved a real chance to build a game they are proud of and put their stamp on history.

TEAMS
The whole point of the Lions is the northern to southern hemisphere meeting, and I would be keen to keep that essence alive. These guys will be going down to play the best in the southern hemisphere and you should keep it at that. There are so many routes we could go down with this but it’s just a case of picking one and going with it.

You could look to go in a completely different direction with the women’s tour, the options are endless. For example, a great introduction to the tour could see teams playing in France. This would open up great opportunities for broadcasting. You could even look to invite New Zealand to play too, which would give a great opportunity for a live sporting event.

Olympic Sevens

Celia Quansah, Natasha Hunt and Helena Rowland of Team Great Britain prepare to take the field for the Women’s pool A match between Team New Zealand and Team Great Britain during the Rugby Sevens on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, some teams who compete in the men’s tour are more established than their women counterparts. That’s not to say that these teams can’t compete in this tour in the future, but care must be taken when deciding which teams should be involved.

Taking that thought into consideration, we could even look to create an Oceania team, selecting players from the Pacific Islands to be involved in the competition.

I do think it is essential to point out that this is something that, like any other global competition, will take many years to grow and develop, but It’s not impossible to get a good fanbase of women’s supporters.

THE NEXT GENERATION
I don’t think young girls understand the concept of the Lions fully, but they do embrace it. I would have loved the opportunity to become a Lion, and I know that even by writing about the possibility of the tour, we will be sparking inspiration in the younger generation. It would present young female rugby players with another level to aspire to, which could lead to higher participation at all levels.

The Lions tour was never an idea in the female rugby player’s mind, until someone questioned its lack of existence. Previously, we all accepted that this was just a men’s thing, and now we have an opportunity to change history, work outside of tradition to make something brilliant happen.

Visit the Girls Rugby Club HERE.

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Burford: Women's Lions tour an opportunity to change history

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