With this year’s British and Irish Lions series against the Springboks looking in jeopardy amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in South Africa, there are a number of alternatives being raised. Though no decision has yet been made, one possible option is to face the world champions a year later in 2022.
That may overcome some obstacles surrounding the pandemic, but new problems will be created given the Test matches that are already organised for July 2022 with the World Cup only a year later.
That will also change head coach Warren Gatland’s plans, as the landscape of British and Irish rugby could change over the next 18 months, particularly as some players may have earmarked the 2021 series as their international swansong.
This rescheduling may actually help some players, though, largely those who have succumbed to injuries that have ended their hopes of flying to South Africa or will force them into a late fitness race when they return.
So these are the players that could benefit from a postponed British and Irish Lions tour:
Sale Sharks’ Tuilagi would have featured in many predicted Lions XVs at the beginning of the season, but a torn achilles in September ruled him out of the autumn and will keep him sidelined throughout the upcoming Six Nations.
He will face a battle to return to top condition for the trip to South Africa in July should it go ahead, so any delays in the scheduling could help him.
Leinster’s Leavy returned earlier this season after an ACL injury that had taken 18 months to recover from. An injury of this nature will inevitably take any player some time to return to full form, and any postponement will give the flanker an opportunity to conjure the displays he was producing in 2018 and put him in the Lions conversation.
Ospreys fly-half Anscombe is still expected to miss the rest of this season having suffered a setback over the summer in recovering from the ACL injury he sustained in August 2019. Should the Lions be pushed back a year, the No10 picture may look very different with some players nearing the end of their careers, meaning Anscombe could impress his former coach Gatland.
Though Leinster’s Furlong is expected to return in time for the Six Nations from his calf injury, he is still yet to play this season. But should he show a semblance of his capabilities upon his return, he will be in the Lions squad whenever and wherever it will be.
Capable of playing hooker or in the back row, the versatility of Glasgow Warriors’ Brown makes him a desirable tourist. But he is set to miss the Six Nations with a neck injury, leaving him a limited window to impress should the tour go ahead as planned.
While 2020 was a breakthrough year for 19-year-old Gloucester winger Rees-Zammit, where he earned his first Wales cap, a Lions tour at the end of the season may still be a stretch for him given the wealth of options in the back three. Another year, however, would put the Welshman in a much better position.
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